The Pursuits Interview: Usain Bolt
The Drum has teamed up with the Financial Times to run a series of articles giving you a flavour of what you might have missed in the FT in recent weeks.
He’s the incarnation of explosive speed, but in the game he loves best, victory depends on slow-maturing skill
Usain St Leo Bolt, the fastest man in the world, sinks into a chair in his London hotel and begins to extol the joys of life in the slow lane. “I love playing dominoes – it is a real passion,” says the Jamaican sprinter, stretching out his 6ft 5in frame. “It’s such a wonderful and peaceful game. I sit outside my home [in Kingston] playing with my friends for hours, just talking, chilling, laughing and thinking.”
The subtle, slow-burning pleasures of dominoes seem at odds with Bolt’s effervescent personality, but the game is a national obsession in Jamaica. “I grew up watching my father playing dominoes,” says Bolt, recalling how he learnt to play as a child, hanging out on the veranda of his home in Sherwood Content, a village in northwest Jamaica.
“If you drive past towns on Sundays, you see young people and older people playing outside shops and bars,” he says. “Sometimes you sit down to play dominoes and there are so many people standing around watching, you feel more pressure than on the running track. You need real patience and concentration. It is very technical.”
For Bolt, a game of dominoes is not just a relaxing counterpoint to a high-pressure career. “The game we play is ‘six-love’ so you have to win six games to get a point, and it can get competitive,” he says. “Some people cheat by making codes to their partners, so you have got to know who you’re playing.” Challenging older players sharpens his game: “My coach Glen Mills is good. Courtney Walsh [the retired West Indian cricketer] is good and Beres Hammond [the reggae singer] is very good. Playing with older guys makes me better. The older you get, the easier it becomes because you think more clearly. You also understand how the young mind works because you were young once. After playing these older guys, when I play with ‘the little people’ again, I totally dominate them.”
Bolt’s interest in dominoes carries with it an echo of his tranquil upbringing in the parish of Trelawny, amid the hills and rainforest and yam plantations of Jamaica’s Cockpit Country. He remembers a childhood spent running around playing football and cricket and climbing trees – adventures that brought him speed, strength and good health.
“I love the country and I always will,” he says. “Being in the city you lack a lot because you don’t go out as much, but in the country I was outside all the time – running around barefoot or carrying buckets of water from the river. And in the country you eat more healthily. In cities, at school lunchtime you buy your lunch. In the country, you better go find something in the fields or you won’t eat until dinner time. So we ate a lot of fruit – whatever was in season: apple, guineps [sometimes called Spanish lime] or bananas. It was very healthy.”
It is a sign of the value Bolt places on companionship and loyalty that his best friend from Waldensia Primary School, Nugent Walker Junior (“NJ”), is now his personal manager. NJ used to wait at the bottom of Bolt’s garden so the pair could walk to school together; now he escorts Bolt around the world. Today he is watching YouTube videos as Bolt and I chat. “We are best friends but NJ has always been more of an indoors person and is always on the net – an information person,” says Bolt. “I am the one who goes out and sees the world – a people person. So we exchange. It works well. It always has.”
For the rest of this article visit ft.com/life-arts
Senior Marketing Manager
Financial Publishing & B2B
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