9 lessons from Usain Bolt’s autobiography

100m, 200m and 100m relay Olympic Gold medals.  Beijing, London and Rio.  World Record holder in all 3 disciplines.  Usain Bolt trained hard and then produced his best when it counted at all 3 Olympic Games in all 3 disciplines.  We can learn a lot from his example (watch his 100m world record – with German commentary here), as well as from his book, “Usain Bolt – Faster than Lightening”.

Here are my key takeaways from the book:

1. Grit matters. Bolt didn’t have running water in his home.  It took 48 buckets to fill up the drums and that meant 48 trips to the river and back.  Usain figured out that it would be quicker to carry 2 buckets at a time. “In my mind I was cutting corners, but carrying two buckets at a time developed me physically: I could feel my arms, back and legs getting bigger with every week.”

2. Encouragement matters. Bolt burst onto the scene when at age 15 he won the u20 World Junior 200m title.  The race was in Jamaica and there were high expectations placed on him.  As he prepared for the race, the times of his American competitors were a lot quicker than his.  He told his coach that he didn’t want to race anymore and would wait until he was a bit older.  One night his mom sat with him on the verandah and putting her arm around him, said,

“Why don’t you give it you all?  Go out there and just try. You’ve got nothing to worry about.” I could feel a lump tightening in my throat.  The emotion and the stress was too much.  I began to cry. “But Mom, I can’t.” “Don’t get upset about it.  Do your best.  Whatever you do, we’ll accept it.  We’ll be proud.”

3. Get out of your comfort zone. Bolt raced against u20 athletes when he was 15.  He could have won every race at u16 level but he kept pushing himself harder.  It didn’t always result in winning.  For example, did you know that he raced at the Athens Olympics but crashed out in the first round heats of the 200m when he finished 4th in his race?  That hurt a lot but it helped set up all his later Olympic victories.

4. It’s natural to feel nervous. Bolt struggled to get comfortable in his spikes before the start of that World Junior 200m race.  The reason?  He had his shoes on the wrong way around!  He knew that his best performances occurred when he was able to remain the most relaxed though.  Engaging with fans and cracking jokes with other athletes helped to reduce nerves but they were always there.

5. Bolt ran despite having scoliosis. This is the medical term for having a back with an irregular curvature. It meant that his right leg was over a 1cm shorter than his left.  It meant extensive physiotherapy, many trips to a Doctor in Germany and tight hamstrings.  He had a ready-made excuse if he ever wanted to quit, but he chose to push through and become a living legend.

6. Push through “The Moment of No Return”. 

“Thankfully Coach had taught me a way of embracing the pain.  He called that overwhelming rush of hurt “The Moment of No Return”, a point of pure agony when the body told an athlete to quit, to rest, because the pain was so damn tough.  It was a tipping point.  He reckoned that if an athlete dropped in The Moment, then all the pain that went before it was pointless, the muscles wouldn’t increase their current strength.  But if he could work through the pinch and run another two reps, maybe three, then the body would physically improve in that time, and that was when an athlete grew stronger.”

7. Push through the pain in practice.

“Coach’s theory was pretty clear.  You might feel a pain in the final of the Olympics and if you haven’t come to understand it in training, you might stop when the sensation is only temporary rather than debilitating.  If you stop you’ll have lost your chance of an Olympic gold medal, maybe for ever.  But if you’ve learned to run through the pain previously, you’ll understand it.  That means you’ll always have a chance of glory.”

8. Try something different (even if your motive is laziness!). Bolt was focussed exclusively on the 200m but his coach said he needed another event to help develop his body.  Coach suggested the 400m.  Bolt wanted to try the 100m instead (because the training was less).  They agreed but on condition that he break the Jamaican 200m record and then run at least a 10.30s in his 1st 100m race.  In 2007, Bolt broke the national 200m record.  He then ran 10.03s in the 100m.  A couple of months later, in only his 5th ever 100m race, he broke the World Record for the first time.

9. He stayed focussed.

“I reminded myself of my new focus every day.  If there were times when I felt like slacking off, I said to myself, “What more do I want?  What’s the thing I want the most?” Step up, Bolt!  Get training if you want to get it!

What stood out for you?  What changes will you make to become more like this inspirational Olympic champion?

Paul Maughan

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