I AM LEGEND
Usain Bolt on LGBT Rights in Jamaica and Hanging Up His Spikes
The subject of the thrilling documentary ‘I Am Bolt’ opens up about his journey to greatness, his native country, and how he plans to try his hand at professional soccer.
There’s a story told early on in I Am Bolt, a new documentary celebrating the athletic prowess of Usain Bolt, that helps illuminate how he became the greatest sprinter to ever set foot on the track.
The yarn began at the 2002 World Junior Championships where, before a hometown crowd in Kingston, Jamaica, a then 15-year-old Bolt was so overcome by pre-race nerves he put his cleats on the wrong feet. It didn’t matter. Bolt emerged victorious in the 200 meters, earning the distinction as the youngest world junior gold medalist ever. Upon crossing the finish line, he turned and saluted his ecstatic countrymen. It is still, he says, the greatest moment of his life. Days later, Bolt’s pal ran afoul of school administrators for tossing his shoe at a female classmate, and Bolt, ever the loyal friend, refused to give him up. Bolt’s father, Wellesley, wasn’t having it. He marched down there, yanked his son of out class, and whooped him in front of the entire school.
“My dad was just a really serious person,” Bolt tells The Daily Beast. “He was a disciplinarian, and that really helped me because he kept me honest and taught me to always respect people. I learned a lot of great lessons by the fact that he was a disciplinarian, but”—he laughs—“that specific incident didn’t really help!”
Bolt’s father would beg to differ. He’s just one of several talking heads who share tales of the living legend in I Am Bolt, which traces Bolt’s journey from a tiny, destitute town in the parish of Trelawny to world’s fastest man with a record nine Olympic gold medals in sprinting.
“When you think of Usain Bolt, you’re definitely going to have to think of the Muhammad Alis, the Peles, the Michael Jordans—amazing athletes that have reached beyond what any other athlete has reached. Serena Williams. Usain Bolt’s name goes right in there,” says Serena Williams in the film.
Much of the film is dedicated to the build-up to this past summer’s Rio Olympic Games, where Bolt was vying for his third straight three-gold Olympics: in the 100m, 200m, and 4 x 100m relay. The man they call Lightning Bolt wasn’t feeling particularly motivated leading up to Rio—that is, until Justin Gatlin and the other American sprinters began ripping into Bolt for receiving a medical exemption after injuring his ankle.
“At the trials, when I had to pull out because I had a small injury leading up the championships, the comments that the U.S. guys made really got under my skin. I’ve never been so upset about something my entire life until that very moment,” he tells me.
The irony, of course, is that Gatlin and many of the American sprinters had been busted for doping violations, yet somehow had the nerve to criticize the great one. “For me, I don’t make the rules of track and field, but I’ve always been respectful of them and never bashed them in any way. I’ve always shown respect, you know what I mean? So the way that they came at me I felt was really disrespectful,” he says. “It really annoyed me and got me angry for the first time ever.”
Bolt promised Gatlin that he “will feel my full wrath” in Rio—and he did. Bolt took home golds in the 100m, 200m, and 4 x 100m relay, achieving immortality.
The sports icon parties just as hard as he trains, too (he’s from Jamaica, after all). Following that Rio win, Bolt was photographed getting down in various London nightclubs—and bringing a group of 10 women back to his hotel.
When asked how he balances his prolific partying and grueling training, he laughs. “Over the years I’ve learned to know when to do it. Early in the season, say in the wintertime, I always make sure I train very hard because, as my coach always explains, the background training is very important since then if you get injured during the season it won’t be a complete loss,” he offers. “I’ve really figured out over the years how to train and when I can slack off a little bit. And I need to let loose sometimes! It keeps me sane, and keeps me relaxed.”
Last year, Bolt attended a town hall in Kingston, the country’s capital, hosted by President Obama. During the talk, the president addressed the issue of LGBT rights in Jamaica—a country widely considered to be one of the most homophobic in the world due to its high rates of violent crime against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. In Jamaica, sodomy is punishable by as much as 10 years in prison, and “Gully Queens,” a community of LGBT youths who’ve been kicked out of their homes for their sexuality, are forced to live in storm drains.
On the subject of LGBT rights—or the lack thereof—in his native country, Bolt says that he personally has no problem with the LGBT community. “For me, I have no issue, you know what I mean? Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of these [gay] people, but in Jamaica, it’s the rule and the law,” he says. “I don’t deal with politics, but I work with a lot of people, and I have a few friends [that are gay] and stuff like that, so it’s not a big issue for me, and I try not to get involved in it. I let the politicians deal with that.”
Bolt’s desire to remain apolitical also extended to the recent election of Donald Trump. “For me, I’m not a politics person—at all. I didn’t really follow the election. You always hear the comments or whatever, but I just found it interesting, that’s all,” he shares.
One thing Bolt is certain about is retirement. He’s planning to hang up his spikes following the 2017 World Championships in London, running from Aug. 8 to 13.
“Definitely, yes. That will be it. For sure. This is the last championship,” he says, matter-of-factly. “This one is just for the fans, to come out and enjoy seeing me one last time.”
In addition to his usual hobbies of dominoes, ATVs, movie-watching, and playing Call of Duty, the track superstar plans on spending his retirement trying his hand at a new sport: soccer. Bolt is a longtime fan of the club Manchester United, and has joked that he’s awaiting team manager Jose Mourinho’s call.
“It’s something that I want to try—to do a little tryout or a little training and see if it’s something that I want to do, and then I’ll decide. It’s not a complete ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ at this point,” he says. “The CEO of Puma, he’s good friends with [German club] Borussia Dortmund, so he’s talked to them and they’ve said that they’ll let me come train with them for a week after my season, next season. It’s something that I’m really looking forward to.”