Bolt aims for $10M p.a.

Bolt, Track’s Biggest Star, Looks to Revitalize Sport

Published: April 11, 2009

KINGSTON, Jamaica — As the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt has earned an honored place on the veranda of his aunt’s house and bar in their remote hometown, Sherwood Content. Several posters of Bolt flank a photograph of Nelson Mandela, a clock embossed with the Lord’s Prayer and a plaque featuring Big Mouth Billy, the novelty singing bass.

Karen Fuchs

Bolt’s coaches say he is not finished improving his sprint times. “My main goal is to be a legend in my sport,” Bolt, 22, said.
“She always makes me laugh,” Bolt said of his aunt.

It was a similar melding of the iconic and the playful that Bolt used to stun and charm 90,000 Olympic spectators in Beijing and a worldwide television audience last summer. While collecting three gold medals and three world records, he enjoyed himself immensely, pantomiming an archer drawing his bow and celebrating on the track with a dance called the Gully Creeper.
And now Bolt is hoping that his good-humored personality can be as transcendent as his speed, which produced records in Beijing of 9.69 seconds at 100 meters, 19.30 at 200 and 37.10 in the 4x100 relay.
Not only does Bolt want to revitalize track, a sport experiencing international decline, and redefine the limits of speed, but by the 2012 Summer Games in London, or soon after, he wants to become the first track star to earn $10 million a year in prize money, appearance fees and endorsements.
“David Beckham, Tiger Woods, he’s got to look at that being his target,” Ricky Simms, Bolt’s London-based agent, said, speaking more in terms of wide marketability than income. Track stars do not earn as much as top stars in more visible professional sports. Woods, for example, earns an estimated $100 million a year. A handful of top track stars, like Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Marion Jones and Maurice Greene, probably earned $5 million to $7 million at the peak of their careers.
Because Bolt is only 22, he has a chance to participate in three Olympics. To become a surpassing figure, he will surely have to continue to win and set records, while avoiding injury and complacency and remaining free of the taint of doping.
In this post-Olympic year, with the world track and field championships to be held in August in Berlin, Bolt is the sport’s only megawatt drawing power. As such, agents and meet promoters said, he will command appearance fees of up to $200,000 for races, double what other top stars earn.
His shoe contract with Puma is worth about $1.5 million a year, company officials said. He also has endorsements for Gatorade and Digicel, a Caribbean mobile phone company, which could put Bolt’s 2009 income above $3 million.
But Bolt is from Jamaica, not the United States, where many Olympic sponsors have their headquarters. And he also came into greatness on the precipice of a worldwide recession. It remains to be seen whether he will ever realize his $10 million vision of licensing his image for video games, action figures and cereal boxes.
“I hope the guy can get it, but it’s going to be a tough nut to crack,” said Emanuel K. Hudson, a Los Angeles lawyer and agent for Greene, the 2000 Olympic champion in the 100.
In an interview last Monday with international reporters, Bolt spoke candidly about his ambitions and the challenges of rekindling his motivation after such startling performances in Beijing.
Bolt has decided that his drive would be to continue pushing the edge of human performance. His coaches speak of him potentially running the 100 in 9.5, breaking 19 seconds in the 200 and challenging the 400 world record of 43.18, held by Johnson, Bolt’s idol.
“My main goal is to be a legend in my sport,” Bolt, who is 6 feet 5 inches, said. “You have to stay on top every year. You can’t be fast this season and the next two not be there.”
Appearances for his sponsors, post-Olympic celebrating and other distractions put Bolt behind in his early-season training, he acknowledged. He started poorly in his opening 100 last month in Spanish Town, Jamaica. Only a searing finish allowed him to match the wind-aided 9.93 run by a training partner, Daniel Bailey of Antigua.
“I didn’t feel like myself,” Bolt said.
He went home infuriated, said Norman Peart, Bolt’s manager. “It was a wake-up call,” Peart said, adding that in recent weeks Bolt had become more intent on training.
On Monday, during a relatively easy workout, Bolt ran six repeats of 180 meters from 19.6 to 20.6 seconds, and appeared relaxed and confident.
In noting that his countryman Asafa Powell, the former world-record holder in the 100, tended to “freak out” under pressure at major competitions, Bolt said he bided his time before races by playing video games and dominoes and by adopting this approach: “If I’m the fastest man in the world, you’re not going to beat me.”
On and off the track, Bolt understands that he will now come under far greater scrutiny. Michael Phelps, the American swimmer who won eight gold medals in Beijing, learned this when he was photographed at a party with a marijuana pipe. The result was a three-month suspension and the loss of a commercial deal with Kellogg.

“That was stupid,” Bolt said of Phelps’s behavior. He acknowledged that he had also tried marijuana when he was younger and that Phelps might have felt peer pressure, but, Bolt added, “You’ve got to know who you are and how famous and what you mean in the country.”

Bolt now travels with two police officers, more to control overzealous fans than to protect him, one of the bodyguards said. He often sends his friends to run his errands; otherwise he will be routinely stopped and asked to sign autographs and pose for photographs.

When in public, Bolt seems happy to oblige these requests. He attended the national high school track championships here with 25,000 others on April 4 and hugged children like the most seasoned politician. Still, he is fast only on the track; otherwise Bolt operates with his own unhurried rhythms. After the meet, he invited 2,000 people to a party at a local club, finally arriving at 2:30 a.m., dancing in a pair of sunglasses.

At the championships, several athletes were inspired to match Bolt’s theatricality, if not his speed. Ramone McKenzie won the 200 while wearing a Batman mask. McKenzie said Bolt had told him, “Don’t be like me; be better than me.”

In Beijing, Bolt became the first Jamaican man to win the Olympic 100. (Donovan Bailey, a native of Jamaica, won the 100 for Canada at the 1996 Atlanta Games; Ben Johnson, another Jamaican-born athlete competing for Canada, had his 1988 gold medal stripped after testing positive for steroids.) Shelly-Ann Fraser also became the first Jamaican woman to win the Olympic 100 in Beijing.

These accomplishments brought a sense of national pride and signaled that Jamaicans no longer have to attend college in the United States to become stars, track officials said.

Youth participation, along with parental interest, is up considerably since Beijing, they said. At the high school championships, Dianne Johnson, 13, set an age-group record of 11.9 in the girls’ 100; Jazeel Murphy, 15, won his division of the boys’ 100 in 10.44.

Bolt is “an inspiration to the Jamaican people that we can produce greatness, we can be world beaters,” said Ruel Reid, the principal of Jamaica College, a prep sprinting power.

At the same time, Bolt’s Olympic success has started a debate here about whether a developing nation can afford for its high schools and federal government to spend exorbitantly on sports development and stadiums.

“Until Jamaicans, the vast majority of Jamaicans, in every nook and cranny, can read and write, until proper health care, housing and food are available to all Jamaicans, the government cannot be expected to answer every call, or most of the calls, to pump so much of the people’s money into sports,” Tony Becca wrote last week in a column in The Gleaner, Jamaica’s leading newspaper.

Outside Jamaica, Bolt’s stunning times have fueled another debate — about whether his records are valid. He has never failed a drug test, but the devalued nature of sprinting is such that fast times now draw immediate skepticism. Three of the previous five Olympic men’s 100 champions have tested positive for banned substances, and Jones has had her reputation disgraced.

Noting that Bolt had only begun to run the 100 seriously in 2008, Lewis, a 10-time Olympic gold medalist, told Sports Illustrated’s Web site last September that, “For someone to run 10.03 one year and 9.69 the next, if you don’t question that in a sport that has the reputation it has right now, you’re a fool.”

Those remarks still sting here. In rebuttal, sports officials note that Jamaica has been a sprinting power for 80 years. That its development system holds national championships even for elementary school children. That there are top-level coaches across the island. That Bolt has been an international star since age 15, when he won the world junior championship in the 200.

Teddy McCook, general secretary of the Jamaican Olympic Committee, called Lewis “an idiot.”

Facing international pressure, Jamaica has begun an independent testing program. Even before that, Bolt said, he was tested 30 to 40 times last year, in and out of competition, by track and field’s world governing body and by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Bolt’s coach, Glen Mills, said Bolt was willing to be tested “every day, every minute of the day.” Questions about doping did not bother him, Bolt said, adding, “I know I’m clean.”

His fans desperately hope so.

“We’re all praying,” said Ian Andrews, the administrative manager of Jamaica’s Institute of Sports. A positive drug test by any of its sprinting stars, Andrews said, “would deflate the entire country.”

For now, Bolt is being portrayed here in a more idealized light: a boy who learned to run on a rocky, rutted grass track in Sherwood Content, about 60 miles southeast of Montego Bay, then became an Olympic champion.

A humble and responsible man who helps youths in his home district with fire extinguishers and computers, track shoes and weight-lifting equipment.

On April 26, Bolt will attend a street carnival in Boston, where fans can race on a bike against a life-size cutout of him, attached to a rail, to try to match his 100-meter speed.
In May, he will race 150 meters on a special track laid in the streets of Manchester, England. Next year, he plans to participate in a challenge between American and Jamaican sprinters. These events are designed to expand track’s appeal in non-Olympic years and to raise Bolt’s profile.

“There is a responsibility for me to help the sport,” Bolt said. “It’s no problem. I want to have fun all the time. It’s just going to be me being me.”