We thought we knew fast when Usain Bolt won gold in 2008 in preposterous fashion (with his shoe untied!). But somehow he got faster, smashing his Olympic records in 2012. This year, at the ancient age of 29, the fastest man in history grabbed three more gold medals, making the case that he was right when he declared himself “The Greatest Athlete to Live.”
Usain Bolt favors the supine. Given the chance, the feet will go up on something or the ass will scoot down on something. He looks very natural on a couch in the “fourth hour of watching sports on television” position. The first afternoon we meet—in the living room of his home in the verdant hills on the outskirts of Kingston—Usain is splayed on a chaise, powering through his Instagram. He is wearing skinny black jeans, white fashion high-tops, a white T-shirt. He’s six feet five inches but extraordinarily well proportioned. Powerful forearms, broad shoulders. His house, comfortable but modest considering he’s one of the wealthiest people in Jamaica, is decorated in the contemporary-nationless style, like a luxury condo in Dubai. Lots of black and white, lots of cold tiles. He’s in the midst of having three months off—it’s October now, but he won’t get back on the track again until November. He says it’s a schedule that suits him.
“I’m pretty lazy,” he tells me. “I’m a lazy person.”
This is the most time he’s ever had off since he started competing seriously at age 16. It’s a reward he’s given to himself for winning three gold medals at the Rio Olympics this year (for the 100 meters, the 200 meters, and as part of the 4 x 100-meter relay team). For not only holding the world record in the 100 and 200 (which no one seems to be able to come close to) but also being the only runner in the history of the world to win three gold medals in three sprinting events in three separate Games. It’s hard to even come up with a name for it—the triple three-peat? The nine-peat?
I ask: Is it difficult to be physically inactive for that long?
“I like to chill out,” he says. “Watching TV. That’s me.”
So we talk about what he likes to watch on TV. Action movies, he says. He likes them violent. He wants jaws broken and heads exploding. He liked the last Captain America movie, but the end was bullshit. He thinks the Bourne movies are good, but they’re all the same. The last really good movie he saw? The Ninja Turtles movie: “It was about Krang, the villain, who came from another world and tried to take over the world with Shredder; then he betrayed Shredder and the Ninja Turtles have to save the world from this war-machine crap. It was good!”
Oh, and Veep. He digs Veep, too.
I don’t believe you’re lazy, I tell him. You can’t be lazy and win nine Olympic gold medals.
“It’s true,” he says. “I’m lazy. I’ll call someone upstairs and say, ‘Pass me the remote.’ ”
He says it’s good that he’s acclimating so well to the Ninja Turtles-movie-reviewer lifestyle, because in less than a year Usain Bolt plans to be retired from track and field. This was, he confirms, his last Olympics. He will train for one more world track championships, in London next summer. And then… Well, that’s pretty much it.
You’re not going to miss it, I ask. (He shakes his head: No.) But you like running, right?
“Yeah. I like to compete.”
If you watch all of Usain Bolt’s Olympics in order—Beijing in 2008, then London in 2012, Rio this year—you’ll notice something. At first, in Beijing, he seemed to be made out of some other kind of material entirely. He was so far ahead after 80 meters that he actually let up, looked back, and raised his arms. This look on his face we’d never quite seen before on a world-class athlete. It was as if he were so good he couldn’t resist watching himself win the race. It was a tease—just how good could he be? He can’t be bothered to let us know. But over the course of the following years, the field began to catch up. Inches, feet at a time. In Rio, Usain won convincingly, but he’d become almost human. The weight of the flesh seemed to have just about caught up with him.
I ask: Could you come in third or fourth place and still love it, because you’re really competing against yourself? He shakes his head again: No.
“I’m too competitive,” he says. “That’s why it’s time for me to go. The drive—I know it’s going to start going down.”
Truth be told, he says, he had a hard time staying motivated this year. There’s no way he could do it again.
A Brief Romantic Interlude
I came in, I will admit, wanting in part to discuss the romantic exploits of Usain Bolt. After he won his medals in Rio, he seemed to go on a world tour of barely dressed women with the same overt sense of joy with which he greets his medal victories. The Internet is littered with lo-fi Vine-length clips of Usain Bolt in the company of young females. A photo surfaced of Usain cuddling in bed with a woman identified as the widow of a deceased Brazilian drug lord named Dina Terror. I read alarmingly detailed reports in the British press of the various nightclubs he frequented in various districts of London after the Olympics—the Libertine nightclub in Fitzrovia, Drama and Tape in Mayfair—and with whom and by which door he entered and exited.
“The British press is always trying to make me out to be this bad guy who loves women and how all I do is women and stuff.”
Why are you a bad guy if you love women?
“I was telling this English press guy,” he says by way of response. “You can’t judge a different culture by your own culture. In England when you get famous the first thing you do is get married and have kids. In Jamaica it’s different—like my parents had me and they got married 11 years later.”
And his behavior at nightclubs, he says, it isn’t exactly what it appears to be. “In Jamaica, we wine on each other. It’s our culture. People see it the first time, they’re like, What is going on? It’s like they’re having sex in the club! No, that’s just the culture. It’s how we are.”
But Wait—Are You Really Going to Retire?
I thought about it for a while. I let it sit. Later in the afternoon, I asked him in just those words: But wait—are you really going to retire? Because there won’t be anyone telling you that you’re the fastest man in the world anymore. Paparazzi are very annoying when you’re trying to wine on ladies but might become something you miss when you wine on ladies and no one cares, and then when no one cares there are suddenly no more ladies to wine on.
But he insists. “I like the simple life,” he says. “I’m from the country. And after I retire, I’m going to live in the country. I like dirt bikes and football and stuff. Just nature, and just chilling.”
Yeah, I say. But you enjoy the nightclub, too.
“Yeah, but after a while that’s gonna get boring.”
Usain Bolt Doesn’t Play Defense
Out of the darkening streets, Usain Bolt arrives at the Football Factory on a speedy Japanese-made motorcycle that, against his six-foot-plus frame, looks almost like a child’s toy. It is dusk, off a street thronged with traffic snaking upward from the congested flats of the city into the hills, lighting up the faces of Jamaican schoolgirls in their British colonial uniforms as they wait at bus stops. The Factory is an outdoor public soccer facility wedged between a school and the street, available for rent by the hour. Bolt rode over here alone, in his Puma slides, with no security detail—Kingston is a notoriously dangerous city, but, Usain says, “I have no issues in Kingston. There’s always a lot of love.”
They play on these miniature fields with walls, he and his friends. How it works is the game lasts for ten minutes or until someone scores. Usain has been coming here twice a week for three years. One of his good friends, a guy named Gussy who works as an air-traffic controller, is here. There’s a little man with a caved-in chest and tiny wrists about whom I think: No way does this guy play soccer. (But he does. Man, does he play soccer.) They’re not all impressive physical specimens like Usain Bolt. Some of their bodies might be lumpen, or atrophied, or molded by desk work into stiff curves. But everyone’s really, really good at soccer in a way Americans just aren’t yet. They trudge onto this little Astroturf field, and for a few hours several times a week they are no longer air-traffic controllers or etc.
If you want to know whether he’s good at soccer, the answer is yes. Usain Bolt is very good at soccer. His game isn’t natural to this miniaturized field—he looks bottled up. But he scores a lot. He also likes to lie on the ground and laugh when he takes a tumble, as the game moves on around him.
Also: Not one person ogles or approaches Usain Bolt in his capacity as Jamaica’s sole international megastar. There are other fields filled with strangers, and from those fields I detect not even a furtive glance in his direction. Either they have some really professional poker faces, or they sincerely see Usain Bolt as just a guy they kind of know.
After an hour or so, his girlfriend, Kasi, arrives. The girlfriend who, while Usain was on his international wining tour, let the Twitter world know that he was risking his future back home with his “goddess.” Usain kisses her, and they sit next to each other looking at their phones until it’s his turn to play again. Then he’s back on the field and she sits by herself waiting for her boyfriend to be done playing soccer.
At 10 P.M., their time is up. The group that’s rented the field next is waiting. Usain buys a round of beers for everyone, and they all go sit at some picnic tables. Usain leans against a chain-link fence and drinks a beer. Kasi stands next to him, trying to look natural, now waiting for her boyfriend to decide that he wants to go home. He’s already beginning to live the future he’s been talking about—a guy who’s aging into normalcy, with a fallible body, whom people will point at and say: Hey, man, that’s Usain Bolt, he was the fastest man alive. A guy who gets together with his friends a couple of times a week to play soccer and inhabit his body the way he used to and then hang out afterward listening to music, while off in the distance the lights of the rest of the world twinkle on.
Before I leave, Usain wants to make a final point. “Just write down,” he says, “that I scored three goals. The most goals.”
His friends laugh. He smiles, too. It’s funny that he’s being competitive about this game, right?
“Yeah, but you were kind of hanging out near the goal,” I said.
“What do you want? I’m a striker,” he says, mostly serious. “Strikers don’t get back on defense.”
It’s funny that he’s being competitive. But he still wants me to know: He won.