USAIN Bolt is renowned for being a jovial, extroverted character, as popular for his easy-going personality as his exploits on the track.
But, up until leading Jamaica to gold in the 4x100m relay on Saturday night, he had been a shadow of his usual cheery self at these Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
First, he decided to skip the individual 100m and 200m events – in which he holds the world records – and only trot out for the 4x100m relay. That hardly showed a full level of commitment and interest.
Secondly, he has been embroiled in an ongoing row with The Times newspaper, one of the most respected media outlets in Britain, after it reported that he described the Games in Glasgow as “sh*t” in an off-the-record remark. Bolt insists he said no such thing, but the newspaper is standing by its story and the affair has left a bad taste lingering in the mouth of fans.
And now he has got himself involved in a war of words with BBC presenter Gabby Logan, who on Thursday was reportedly overheard saying she had thus far “enjoyed” the Games without Bolt’s presence.
Bolt was not amused.
“I heard somebody say they enjoyed the games without (fellow Jamaican sprinter Yohan) Blake and me,” Bolt told the BBC after Jamaica won their 4x100m heat on Friday night.
“Yeah you, I am talking to you, she knows who I am talking to. They are in the stadium aren’t they? The BBC, Michael Johnson, I’m not going to call names, they know who they are.”
Okay, he may have had his tongue in cheek, but this is out of step with his image as a relaxed, fun-loving character more interested in sleep, dance and chicken nuggets than getting embroiled in a war-of-words with the media.
Bolt even felt compelled to say “I’m a fun person, I love to have fun, look at me!” before pulling a face and striding off.
Usain Bolt, trying too hard? Something is not quite right – and, scratching under the surface, you can see why.
For starters, there’s his fitness. Out for two months prior to these Games, Bolt was actually a doubt and would have felt compelled to compete despite being below par, particularly with fellow sprint star Blake pulling out because of concerns over his hamstring.
Bolt is Jamaica’s biggest star in any field, and he is the main man in world track and field. He is the poster boy for these Games, not to mention brands such as Virgin, who line his pockets in return for amusing appearances in advertising campaigns.Advertisement
There was pressure to appear in Glasgow, and Bolt appears to have felt it. How he would have liked to follow pal Blake in taking the summer off…
Then there is the spectre of doping which is hanging around the Jamaica camp like a bad smell.
Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson recently had successful appeals against 18-month bans for testing positive for performance-enhancing substances. Those suspensions were cut to six months by the Court of Arbitration for sport, leaving them free to resume their careers.
They successfully argued that the positive tests were the result of contaminated food, but many fans and pundits aren’t buying it – and Bolt, the fastest man ever, has been unfairly subjected to the inevitable rumour mill surrounding PEDs.
We should also bear in mind that Bolt does not seem overly interested in making a long-term career of track athletics – he said he would retire after the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, plans he is reconsidering. Is he truly committed to the sport, or would he rather try his luck at football?
Bolt is 27, in the process of maturing from a carefree young man to a full-formed adult. And he is doing to in the public eye, competing in a sport less accustomed to the glare of the public than football or tennis, perhaps with less support (and certainly without a team to hide behind).
Some of the choices are his, such as the media appearances and the decision to open up about his lifestyle and interests. But some are not.
It is not possible to get inside the head of the athletic enigma. But it is possible to at least attempt to see things from his side. With great success comes great pressure, and not just to perform.
He appeared to be in a better mood before and after the 4x100m final, where he led Jamaica to gold. His usual self. But he has been up and down, and it’s a touch odd.
Hopefully Bolt’s head will clear in good time; certainly his legacy as the greatest ever should be cemented in Rio.