Born and raised in Trelawny, a largely agricultural parish in north-west Jamaica, Bolt is the son of a pure green coffee plantation worker and a dress-maker. He grew up in an environment where, he says, electricity and running water could not necessarily be taken for granted. But he refuses to indulge in tales of hardship and instead reminisces enthusiastically about bike rides, his early obsession with cricket, and speculates on whether, had he not become an sprinter, he would have been good enough to follow in the footsteps of his cricketing idol Wasim Akram.
He moved to Kingston to live and train under the care of his manager Norman Peart when he was 16, but he still sees his family once a month; his best friend remains the same one he met when he was three, and he frequents the same haunts he did before he hit the big-time.
One of the best things about living in Jamaica, he says, is the way the lack of celebrity culture helps prevent him from being distracted — and throughout the few days I spend with Bolt I have the opportunity to see what he means. We make several trips into and around Kingston, and it is remarkable how little he is bothered by the public even though everyone knows who he is. He strolls about the streets or along the beach and responds to the odd shouted comment of “Hey, world beater, how you doing?” with a thumbs up, or a grin and a nod, but to the island’s populace at large he is simply another Jamaican going about his business. No wonder he claims fame for him has no downside.
“Over here there is not the same pressure like there is in other countries,” he says. “Elsewhere there is a lot more of a culture of people wanting things from you all the time, but here I can just enjoy it. But I like my level of fame. If I was as famous as, say, David Beckham, I would definitely not be able to handle it, but here in Jamaica, people respect you and leave you your own space. Here I can relax and be low-key.”
‘Low-key’ is probably the most apt way to describe Bolt’s attitude to life, as Norman Peart points out. “Usain doesn’t get worked up or worried about anything,” he says. “He always has a smile on his face, he does things his way and is happy with what he is doing. Today he is the fastest man in the world and has a chance of winning two gold medals in Beijing, but he’s the same clown as the 15-year-old kid I met six years ago.”
“On an average day I’ll have dumplings, yams and fried green bananas for breakfast. And I love KFC, that’s my favourite!”
Proof of just how low-key Bolt is lies in his choice of venue to celebrate his world record. With the whole of the Big Apple at his mercy, Bolt took his entourage straight to the nearest McDonalds.
“I celebrated in style, man! I love burgers so we went there. Why not? I had a bacon cheeseburger, chicken nuggets, fries, a Powerade and lots of BBQ sauce.” Peart rolls his eyes indulgently as Bolt tells this story and afterwards explains that such a meal is far from a rare treat for this man: “When I say that Usain is relaxed about everything, I mean everything. Other athletes obsess about what they put in their bodies, but he doesn’t. Glen Mills and I have had a real battle in the past trying to get him to eat right.