Usain Bolt’s Rise to Stardom Began with a Box Lunch


Eric Levenson writes about Usain Bolt’s autobiography—Usain Bolt: Faster Than Lightning—in which the sprinting champion displays a keen sense of humor as he describes his first sporting love (cricket), his childhood, and “how a boxed lunch launched his running career.” Here are excerpts:

Bolt has been riding high even before he torched the rest of the field during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In total, he has won six total gold medals and eight World Championships in dazzling 100-meter and 200-meter races. The Jamaican sprinter describes himself in his Twitter bio as “The most naturally gifted athlete the world has ever seen,” and his new autobiography, Usain Bolt: Faster Than Lightning, does nothing to suggest that isn’t his actual opinion of himself. Here are a few highlights of the book.

Cricket was his first love: Though the island country loves its many sprinters, Bolt grew up almost solely playing cricket instead. Tall and lanky even in first grade, Bolt was slow getting out of the blocks in races and hated to lose. So, he just didn’t run. “All the fun I needed came from taking wickets,” he explains of his thoughts then. Bolt and his friends often played with a tennis ball or wadded up rubber bands and string. Soon, though, a teacher took notice of his sprinting potential and asked him to compete in a local race. Bolt refused at first, but then the teacher gave him a nice bribe — a box lunch. “Wow, s**t had got serious!” he writes. Yes, the Jamaican version of a Pizza Lunchable was the true cause of Bolt’s rise to the top. He still enjoys cricket, too, as evidenced by the 2009 picture above.

Bolt’s is pretty funny: The sprinter’s sense of humor comes through most clearly in the comments he sticks in the footnotes at the bottom of the page. For example, he writes about how in his young days he hardly cared about his education, and he rejected a teacher’s suggestion to learn Spanish. The footnote is full of regret: “Damn, if only I’d listened. Over the last few years I’ve met some of those Spanish girls and a lot of them were seriously beautiful.” Sadly for Bolt, he couldn’t talk to them in their language. (Not that he needs to say much. “Quieres ver mis medallas?” would probably do the trick.) He shows off some in another footnote a few pages later. Bolt writes about how his loving mom, a dressmaker, taught him to help stitch and sew clothes. “Now I know what to do if ever I rip a shirt,*” he writes, and the asterisk leads to the following: “Come on man, get serious – I buy a new one.” Hey, he never said he was modest.

[. . .] Faster Than Lighting works as a stark contrast to those typical you-can-do-it-too athlete biographies. Think of Michael Phelps’ autobiography The Will to Succeed, in which the swimmer described his grueling six-days-a-week training regimen as a main factor in his many gold medals. If you practice as much as Phelps, you can win gold too! it seems to suggest. For Bolt, though, dominating sprinting wasn’t about will or practice. It was all about God-given, all-natural speed. Throughout, Bolt openly disdains most training, and casually brags about how he barely needed to prepare during his run to the top.

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