Usain Bolt set to start season, and ready for Tyson Gay

By Leon MannBBC sports news
Bolt focused on medals

Olympic 100m champion Usain Bolt is confident he can beat rival Tyson Gay over 100m this season, gaining revenge for a surprise defeat last August.

World record-holder Bolt was struggling with a back injury when he lost to American Gay in Stockholm last year.

"Yes - Tyson beat me and he deserved it. As long as I am in shape, I have no worries," Bolt told BBC Sport.

Bolt makes his European season debut at Thursday's Rome Diamond League meeting, taking on Asafa Powell over 100m.

But he has his eyes on a meeting with Gay before the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, which start at the end of August.

"We're going to take the Diamond League as a stepping stone leading to the World Championship to determine how good my start is, what I need to adjust," he explained.

"If me and Tyson meet before the World Championship it would be good - to determine what I need to do and don't need to do."

Away from the track, Bolt cuts a more relaxed figure but he was far more focused when I met up with him in Jamaica recently than he had been in similar circumstances two years ago.

It's no secret that Bolt enjoys a party. In marketing terms, it has become part of the fastest man in the world's brand.

So I was expecting him to be central to some lively celebrations at his brother Sadiki's birthday party in a swanky nightclub in Jamaica's capital, Kingston. What I found was very different.

A strikingly slimmed down but broader-shouldered Bolt nodded his head to the tracks booming out from the speakers but stood on outskirts of the dancehall.

He had a drink in his hands but sipped it slowly, while those around him threw back the shots.

Two years ago, he had a drink in each hand, danced away until the early hours and lapped up the attention.

Two days after the party we sat down in a small hotel room, filled with PR people, cameras and bright lights. He was in a thoughtful mood and the most relaxed I had seen him in front of the camera as I asked about that defeat in Stockholm.

"For me last season was just a season. It wasn't a serious season," he said.

"We went out there and my coach told me that last season was a season for us not to do too much and try and rest up a little bit for the upcoming seasons - because these were going to be strenuous on my body.

"But this season I'm ready and I'm just working hard trying to get into shape."

The rivalry between Bolt and Gay is great for athletics. Before last August, some had questioned whether Bolt had any serious competition - something that clearly never crossed Bolt's mind.

"Tyson is like a track guru!" Bolt said with a wide grin. "I think he works harder than everybody. He said it: he doesn't drink, he doesn't party… I don't think he does anything but track!

"He does everything so well. He's so determined.

"When he runs you can see it in his eyes that he wants to win. He works hard and he's determined that he wants to be the best."

Gay isn't Bolt's only rival. He opens up his season on Thursday fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell, the 100m world record-holder from 2005 to 2008 and a man Bolt holds in a very high regard.

"He's a great person and he's fun to be around which a lot of people may not know because he doesn't show that on the track," Bolt said.

"Asafa has laid the foundation for Jamaicans in the 100m sprint."

Another Jamaican we should be looking out for is Yohan Blake. Bolt reveals his training partner is pushing him hard everyday.

Andy Akinwolere previews Usain Bolt: Running Man

"This kid is like a beast," said Bolt. "If you see him in training, he strives to beat me everyday in training.

"He works so hard and he's going to be really good in the future I promise - that's one thing I'm sure of.

"He tells me 'I'm going to beat you'. I keep telling him 'no! It's not going to happen'. That keeps me on my toes - because I see how hard that he works."

A day before our interview, we filmed Usain at the Jamaican Boys and Girls High School Championships.

Camera crews from Brazil, Japan, Switzerland and France, and others from the UK, filmed his every move.

As thousands gathered at the national stadium, cheering and screaming his name it was easy to forget that there was a time when Bolt was not a superstar athlete.

At the 2005 World Championships, he finished last in the 200m final, having picked up an injury, and in 2007 he was second to Gay. So what changed?

"I was young and I was kind of satisfied with the situation I was in," revealed Bolt. "Then I really sat down and me and my coach talked and he said, 'You can be the best, you can run fast times'.

"After the 2007 World Championships I said to my coach, 'How can I be a champion?' and he said, 'You have to get stronger, you got to be more focused on what you want'.

"So that's what I did I just changed a few things and that was it."

Those changes saw Bolt take his abilities to another level. He was suddenly doing things he never even dreamed he would achieve.

"I knew I could run 9.8 [seconds for 100m] probably 9.7 if I'm lucky - but I never knew I would be running 9.5. I never saw that!" he said laughing.

At his peak, experts questioned whether Usain had any motivation to really push himself. He was winning every race, and at times without looking like he was trying.

But as we talked about his strengths and the season ahead I sensed last season's defeat has ignited the motivation that others had questioned.

"I think I'm a little bit back from the past seasons," said Bolt. "But I always do better under a challenge. I always try to do extra better when I'm behind so that's kind of good in a way.

"When I'm under pressure I work even better."

And judging by his understated actions in the nightclub, Bolt has found the motivation and focus to make 2011 a comeback year to remember.

Gay beats Bolt in the Stockholm Diamond League meeting last August

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