Usain Bolt is like a bedspring. The sound ba-doing, ba-doing, ba-doing plays in my head. The guy is constantly bouncing. I look nervously over to the photographer, and think, "How are we ever going to get this guy to stand still for a portrait?" Bolt obliges, however, and sits on the edge of a low fountain at the Greystone Mansion, his long legs bending up like a praying mantis'. No smile for the camera. The smiles are reserved for the children Bolt is here to entertain as part of a media launch event for watchmaker Hublot. Bolt and Hublot are raising funds for the Usain Bolt Foundation, which will help pay for a track-and-field facility in Bolt's native Jamaica.
Next to Bolt, I feel like one of the children from the STAR Education, an L.A.-based summer camp/educational program, 10 of whom were selected to "race" Bolt. He is impossibly tall. I could climb him, and stay up in his limbs to protest deforestation. He is a part of the tall new paradigm for sprinters, his long legs helping him lope short distances at speeds greater than any man in the history of the world. On the 16th of August, 2009, Bolt ran 100 meters in 9.58 seconds. Someone may someday break this record, but it hasn't been done yet. I ask Bolt if time slows down for him when he's running. "No," he says, before rolling his eyes up to the sky, and thinking for a moment. "The amazing thing is watching the race after, because you didn’t get to think about it during the race. To watch to race in slow-mo, you see how long you’re in the air for. It’s almost like you're flying, because my strides are bigger than the majority. So I stay in the air a little bit longer than normal people."
One of my favorite things is human toponymy. Like, when a guy named John Skidmore fixes my breaks. My mom didn't go to the hospital in the nearest town where I was born because the obstetrician there was named Dr. Pain. So, she went an hour further. Usain Bolt is the human embodiment of toponymic destiny. Bolt, like lightning, shooting down from the sky. As in: you see Bolt running before you hear the thunder of the crowd when he wins. Usain Bolt. It's fun to write. Of course he is fast. Duh.
I only have a few minutes with Bolt, or else I would ask him about his name. I would ask him, "You know, with a name like Bolt, it would have been funny if you went crazy, because then you'd be 'nuts' (and) Bolt." I guess that's not really a question, so I abstain. So I ask him instead about having goals after you've beaten the biggest two goal in the world: a gold medal and the world record. "People say I’m a legend," Bolt says, his voice as deep as a bass guitar's rumble, "but I don’t look at myself as a legend just yet. I need to do over the Olympics again, pretty much. Pretty much just go over and just wow the people. And that’s what I want. At the end of the Olympics, I want people to say, did that just really happen? That’s why I’m going to train hard this season, stay focused. I look forward to that."
Since my moment with Bolt, he has been beatable. The calendar year has changed, and the Olympics have rolled around. Suddenly, Bolt isn't the lock for multiple golds he was at the moment I had to speak with him. But, he's still the favorite. He has to be. If Bolt wins out, he goes down in history as one of the greatest runners of all time. He's predicting the fastest 100m run in Olympic history, and claiming 9.4 seconds is not out of reach. Of course, should Bolt take even silver, he will be looked at as a man who simply had a great run.
As the sun sets on the Greystone Mansion, Bolt puts on his show, racing the children, bouncing down the makeshift track, running backwards in place so the kids all beat him. He is laughing and bouncing, and the children eat it up, so happy they can now go tell their friends that they beat Usain Bolt in a race. Not many can do that. As the Olympic track meets gear up, it remains to be seen how many more will.