According to the famous Shakespeare quote, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” In Usain Bolt’s case you can say that all three parts of the statement are true. He was clearly born with physical gifts, and he has developed those gifts to achieve unprecedented greatness in the sprint events. But he might not have done so without a push in the right direction by some of his early athletic coaches.
Growing up in Jamaica, Bolt’s favorite sport was cricket, and he also enjoyed playing soccer. Running was a secondary sport, at best, for the young Bolt, even when he won a national primary school meet. He only started focusing on track and field after a cricket coach saw him run and suggested he take it more seriously.
Early Signs of Success
Bolt entered the international scene in 2001 – the year in which he turned 15 – by placing second in the 200 and 400 in the Carifta Games Under-17 competition. The following year he earned gold in both the 200 and 400 at the Carifta U-17 and CAC junior events, and even more significantly, was the 200-meter gold medalist at the World Junior Championships held in Kingston. Bolt later said he was so nervous before the World Junior final that he initially put his shoes on the wrong feet. In 2003, Bolt won the 200 meters at both the World Youth Championships and the junior division of the Pan-Am Games.
Transitioning to the 100 Meters
Bolt was slowed by injuries in 2004 and 2005, but soon began progressing toward the top of the track and field world. He finished second in the 200 meters at the 2007 World Championships, and also ran on Jamaica’s silver-medal 4 x 100-meter relay squad. At that point Bolt’s coach, Glen Mills, wanted him to continue as a 200-400 runner, but Bolt wanted to drop the 400 and run the 100 instead. Mills promised that Bolt could run the 100 if he broke the Jamaican 200-meter record, which he did in 2007, running 19.75 to top Don Quarrie’s 19.86. The next year, in just his fifth competitive 100-meter event, Bolt broke Asafa Powell’s world record by finishing in 9.72 seconds.
Gold Medals and World Records
Before he set the world mark, Bolt wasn’t sure he’d attempt the sprint double at the 2008 Olympics. But he made it look easy in Beijing, breezing to world record-setting victories in the 100 (9.69 seconds) and the 200 (19.30), then adding a third gold in the 4 x 100 relay for good measure. Then he repeated his individual success at the 2009 World Championships, beating his previous world marks in both the 100 (9.58) and the 200 (19.19).
Bolt vs. Gay
Bolt and American Tyson Gay enjoyed a spirited on-track rivalry in 2007-09. It was Gay who defeated Bolt in the 2007 World Championship final. In 2008, Gay was on the track, running a 9.85, when Bolt first broke the 100-meter world record. But Gay didn't make any finals in Beijing due to injury. Gay's presence may then have motivated Bolt a bit in the 2009 World Championship 100-meter final, as Gay ran a strong 9.71 to finish second.
Later Career Highlights
Bolt earned a gold medal in the 200 at the 2011 World Championships, then won both the 100 and 200 at the 2012 Olympics and the 2013 World Championships. His lone major defeat came when he false-started and was disqualified at the 2011 World Championship 100-meter final. He also anchored Jamaica's world-record 4 x 100-meter relay team at the London Olympics, which took the gold medal in 36.84 seconds.
- Height: 6 feet, 5 inches
- Weight: 207 pounds
- Birth date: August 21, 1986
- Hometown: Sherwood Content, Jamaica
- Personal Best: 9.58 seconds (100 meters); 19.19 (200); 45.28 (400).