Rick Broadbent, Athletics Correspondent
It took 9.69sec to throw the Olympics off their axis and make Usain Bolt a crossover star. He got a letter from Sir Alex Ferguson, an invite from Real Madrid and met Paris Hilton. Everyone wanted a piece of him.
Then there is Christine Ohuruogu, another Olympic champion whose taciturn media image has made her a far harder sell. Which is where Ricky Simms comes in.
The softly spoken Irishman is Bolt’s manager and also looks after Great Britain’s only athletics gold medal-winner in Beijing last year, who runs at the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham today. Some will never forgive her for three missed drugs tests, but Simms believes the introduction of the whereabouts rule in other sports will help.
“I think a lot of the public don’t actually know what Christine did wrong,” he said. “When whereabouts came in, most athletes did not understand the system and her crime was not sending three texts. Now people in other sports are saying it’s like being a prisoner.” Simms has suggested using a GPRS tracking device as an alternative.
“A lot of sports columnists jumped on the bandwagon — I read stuff that was 100 per cent inaccurate — and she had a hard time,” he said.
“I’ve been working closely with her since the Olympics just to let her be her normal self. I was with her in Ireland recently. She was joking and telling stories. It’s the side her friends and family see all the time. She was the entertainer.”
Meanwhile, Sinatra in spikes has embraced his celebrity. “Usain makes no secret he likes to party, but the Jamaican way is different to the Irish,” Simms said in a hotel near his PACE Sports Management company in Teddington, Greater London.
“It’s all dancing. It’s not like the old British distance runners drinking ten pints and going for a run. His coach has told him to knuckle down. He’s 22 and can get better. This is only the start.”
Three world records in Beijing, coupled with the pre-race preening and post-race showboating that so upset Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, led him to be dubbed the man who saved the Games. “At the moment talk like that doesn’t bother him,” Simms said. “I know athletes who would find it a very heavy weight. Noah Ngeny beat Hicham El Guerrouj in the 1,500 metres final in Sydney and the burden was tough for him. But Usain has the personality to carry it off. He’s not into the stats and history. He just says: ‘What lane am I in?’ ”
As for Rogge’s critique: “In the old days athletes would not even look at each other in the call room, but Usain goes to meets with Wallace Spearmon, they’re the big stars of the 200 metres and they’ll have dinner together the night before. He hangs out with Asafa. The accusation that he was disrespecting his rivals is simply not true. He just sees himself as an entertainer.”
The more damaging accusation is that no man could be that good naturally, but the nod and wink of suspicion ignore the CV. Simms said: “I first saw him on a track in 2004. I run with the guys sometimes but I couldn’t keep one step with him. The mechanics of how he covered the ground were incredible. Some journalists wrote he had only run 10.03 before, but he’d only ever run one or two 100 metres races, and if you can run 19.75 for the 200 metres then you’re already a sub-ten second runner.
“In 2005 we thought he could win the 200 metres gold at the World Championships, but he pulled his hamstring when leading. If he’d won that, people wouldn’t have wondered where he came from. As for testing, he’s one of the most tested athletes in the world.”
Simms is on the board of the Association of Athletics Managers, which refuses to represent anyone with a two-year drug conviction. “It’s not about Dwain Chambers,” he said. “I was in the meeting and it was long before his case. The idea was simply to tell kids that if they cheat they can’t make a living from this sport. If you’re a meet promoter trying to attract families then you don’t want stories about drugs.”
He bristles at the way Ohuruogu’s case is lumped with that of the convicted drug cheat. “Christine’s star will burn brighter over the next couple of years,” he said. As for his other top client, his task is to ensure the supernova does not burn itself out.