A month after finishing off his unprecedented Olympic triple-triple in Rio and a month before he resumes training for the 2017 World Championships in London, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is in New York for Puma. And for once, the fastest man in the world has a chance to sit down. He’s taken the photos, signed the autographs, and now—after this conversation, anyway—he can do a little shopping himself. He’s already being shown possibilities—Staple collab Suedes, a Trapstar collab top—but then again, there’s still one more photo op to go, this one with his three most recent gold medals.
Not only is Bolt the fastest man in the world, he’s been so for nearly 10 years. He’s won gold in the 100, 200, and 400 relay three Olympics running—2008 Beijing, 2012 London, and 2016 Rio—along with 11 World Championship titles, and has held the world records in the 100 and 200 since 2009. Standing a towering (for sprinters) 6’5”, Bolt is an unprecedented sprinter doing unprecedented things. He’s as expressive off the track as he is on it, but with a laid-back air one might not expect from The Fastest Man in the World. We spoke to him about training methods, why there aren’t more tall sprinters, and if he’s really ruling out Tokyo in 2020.
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)
Has it reached the point, do the Olympics to you feel part of your routine now? Every four years, here it is?
For me, I always try to take it a year at a time. That’s what my coach tells me to look at in my career. Never try to look way ahead because then you start overlooking things or not taking things too seriously. You know what I mean? He says take it a year at a time. Work. Work on that. Don’t think about Olympics before it comes because you have to go to the World Championships. Because we are trying to build a legacy every year.
This year I kind of struggled for motivation. Because I’ve done everything and I asked myself one time in the season “Why am I doing this?” That’s the first time I’ve ever asked myself that because I love the sport.
Watching your races, a race that lasts less than 10 seconds, yours seems to have parts to it. You can get out a little slow and you still catch up. Does it feel like a lot of time?
[Laughs.] No. It's just how I am, it’s just how I run. It’s just how I’ve run over the years. I’ve always started off really slow because I’m bad at my start. But every now and then I get a good one, you know what I mean? But majority of the time I’m always in the back—at the start.
Do you feel like you would be faster if someone was pushing you?
I think every season they kind of keep me on my toes because most of the season I’m injured. I have to work to come back but I think these guys are doing a good job. I think the first couple years it as much much easier because I was younger, I wasn’t getting as injured. But now down in my latter years, it kind of got harder because I started getting injured and I had to work hard to get back.
Have you changed up your training regimen because of that?
No my coach always says never change. Never change what’s not broken. You might have a few things, but we never try to change the routine.
What’s one part of your routine that you really don’t like?
Background training, when we just start back. It feels like you’ve never done track in your entire life. After like a month off, you start back, you feel like you’re just starting track again. For the first three weeks, you’re just dying. It’s always just pain. So for me that’s the one part I really dislike.
After the way 2016 went, would you rule out 2020?
Definitely. No man, I can’t go. This year I kind of struggled for motivation. Because I’ve done everything and I asked myself one time in the season “Why am I doing this?” That’s the first time I’ve ever asked myself that because I love the sport and it’s horrible, one day I was in training and it was tough. And after I finished training, I asked myself “Why I doing this? I’ve done it.” For me, when I kind of woke up. I couldn’t believe I actually questioned myself like that. So I knew, this is it. I need to really stop if I’m reaching to the stage where I’m questioning myself if I really need this.
Have you reached all your goals?
Yeah, pretty much. The only thing that I wanted to do, which I knew would be hard anyway, was to run sub-19. That’s the only thing I haven’t accomplished. But it’s not like I don’t have the world record so it doesn’t really bother me that much.
When I was coming to this sport and watching Michael Johnson, all I wanted to do was be a 200-meter champion. Cause all I ran was 200 meters, that’s all I wanted to be. Then to now be Olympic champion nine times and to be a world record holder and to be a 12-time world champion. You know what I mean? It’s just something when you sit back and reminisce and think about you’re like “Yo, I’ve outdone myself.” People always say to me, “You don’t really know who you are, or what you’ve done.” Because I’m a simple person, I try to keep it simple. But sometimes when I go to certain places and meet superstars and the way they react to me, it kind of shows me what I’ve done has really made an impact.
What athletes in other sports do you feel would make great sprinters.
I don’t know. It’s always the footballers though, it’s always the footballers. For me, [Theo] Walcott I know would be good—he’s from Arsenal. I think Cristiano Ronaldo would be a 60-meter sprinter. I think he could sprint. And definitely Gareth Bale. I think he’s really good, I think he could be really good.
Are you surprised there aren’t more tall sprinters right now?
I think there’s a few of them. But now, there are more tall sprinters. Juniors are coming up. Back in the days, if you were over 6’, you got to go to run the 400 meters. But now, I think they’re coming out. Some of them I know, guys who are over 6’, now they are running 200 meters and there are one or two that are trying to run 100 meters. But it’s hard. The challenging part is getting out of the blocks. So if you can get past that and get over that challenge, then you’ll be fine.
Have you been following any of the Colin Kaepernick stuff with the national anthem?
No, but I have heard about it a few times.
For me, everybody has their own rights to what they think. They have their own views on things. It’s a free country, and they have their own rights to do what they feel like. So if you feel strongly on something, and you want to make an impact then that’s your choice. That’s how I look at it.
About the shoe stuff, how many pairs of sneakers do you have right now?
Oh my God. It’s a lot. I have a lot of sneakers but I’ve cut back. Because one time, they used to send me the catalogue, and I used to just pick so much shoes and then I noticed that all I do is just pick them and after six months, I give them all away. So I’ve told them, “listen, keep the catalogues, when I come to the store if I see some shoes that I like, I’ll pick those.” Because one time I end up with like, I had like 220 pairs of shoes and like 50 of them were pairs other than Puma, so it was like 170 pairs of Puma shoes. And like 100 pairs I didn’t touch them. So when I was giving them away, I was like “Nah, something’s wrong,” cause I just kept finding new shoes, new shoes, new shoes. But I cut back, I probably have like 100 pairs now. It’s not so bad.
Something that when we retire we plan to do, is get an expensive bottle of whiskey, get some Cuban cigars, and just sit down smoke and just talk, me and my friends.
What’s it like to have your own shoe?
For me, we have a shoe that I put my name on, but we are actually working on something special for me now. Like proper, I design, I have to build to make sure everything is fine tuned, because I want to be like Michael Jordan – even if it’s not as big as Michael Jordan – I would love to just have a shoe with just my sign. Just for something that I can say “yeah, I did this for myself.” For me it’s big to have something like that.
So I was going to ask you about your Nissan GT-R. It says Bolt…
Spec. Spec Bolt. I got it custom made in 2014 when I got it. And I got a white interior and I would not advise anybody to get white interior in your car. It was the worst idea of my life because I was like “gold and white—fire,” you know what I mean? But then everything you touch, if your jeans rubs off on it, you can’t eat anything in it, you got to be so careful for everything. Even when you’re coming into the car, you got to make sure your shoes aren’t that dirty.
So is there white carpeting too?
I had to change it! Because they gave me—I was like “who gives somebody white carpeting?” You know what I mean? So I had to get some black ones.
How much time off did you take off after Rio?
I’m taking two months. So it’s the first time I’ve ever gotten that chance to take two months off. I’ve always gotten one month max.
You’re probably not looking forward to going back.
No, I think it’s going to be much more fun. Because it’s going to be less stress, you know what I mean? I’m going to take the championship serious but it’s going to be more fun for me because now it’s not like “oh my God, if anything goes wrong, it’s over.” So I know I can relax a little bit, have more fun with the crowd, I can just do more fun stuff.
Is there anything you’re super looking forward to do once you don’t have to train for competition? I’m sure there’s stuff you don’t want to do to not get hurt.
No, I do everything I want to do. I think, smoking cigars. I stayed away from smoking completely, but something that when we retire we plan to do, is get an expensive bottle of whiskey, get some Cuban cigars, and just sit down smoke and just talk, me and my friends.
Do you still play football and basketball?
I don’t play basketball. One time, I remember one time, I dunked. I came down kind of bad on my ankle. It wasn’t bad it was like [makes cracking noise] aaawwww shit. From then I was like, you know what forget it. I just play soccer, football whatever.
Do people challenge you to race a lot?
People all the time. People all the time. But the only person that was the biggest thing was Mickey Rourke. He challenged me to a race and I thought he was joking he’s like “let’s go!” In the streets at like 3 in the morning, he took his shoes off and everything. Like for 20 meters.
Did you do it?
Yeah, yeah, we did it.
How many meters did you beat him by? Like 19?
[Laughs.] It was good though, it was good fun.