Faster than Lightning Book Review: “I am a living legend,” I said. “Bask in my glory.”
This defines the attitude and essence of “Usain Bolt, Faster than Lightning: My autobiography” compiled by Matt Allen. When I had reviewed “The Race of My Life”, the autobiography of Milkha Singh, I had wondered if Milkha Singh went like “Brag Milkha Brag” in some places. Now I have no hesitation in admitting, I was wrong, patently wrong. In a world where 15 year old kids whose only running achievements are confined to ‘Temple Run (a popular iOS video game)’ can brag about ‘My attitude’; guys like Milkha Singh and Usain Bolt can’t be faulted for their attitude. Not by me again !
I have been a huge fan of those guys who can run. Having run in school races and come first from the rear end, I know how tough it is to sprint. Carl Lewis was a legend when we grew up. When Ben Johnson broke his record, I was shattered but I felt happy and vindicated when Stanazolol finally fixed Johnson and Carl was again the King.
Coming back to Uasain Bolt, the autobiography narrated in his typical Caribbean style and flair, runs into 278 pages with another 13 pages of appendix and acknowledgements. 16 neatly packed chapters make a very smooth reading, quite like Bolt’s smooth races through the corners. It starts with ‘I was Put on This Earth to Run‘ where he describes his near fatal accident om 29 April 2009 and his come back afterwards. He believes God had sent him to this earth to run and the god saved his to continue running.
‘Walk Like a Champion‘ deals with the childhood of Bolt, his liking for Cricket, his doting mother, strict but honest father and the right upbringing he received thanks to them both. So ‘Whoop-ass’ by his father is what made him a tough yet polite champion. Noting his precocious talent, he was weaned off from Cricket by those who mattered and he was thrust into the world of track and field. All those days in William Knibb, Champs and the little rivals whom Usain hated to lose to, make a nice beginning.
‘My Own Worst Enemy‘ deals with his being initiated into sprinting and his early success and the the carefree attitude and dislike for hard-work. And then the subsequent loss to Keith Spence. But once the little Usain got his revenge back, the philosophy became clear, “If I beat you in a big meat, you are not going to beat me again‘.
‘Where mere Mortals quiver, The Superstar becomes excited by the Big Moment‘ deals with his tryst with Juniors meets, his love to dance and freak out and how loss of confidence followed by the World Juniors 200 metres Junior title. He remembers Don Quarrie as an idol.
‘Living Fast‘ is more about his craze for speed as a kid with vehicles, his decision not to go to States on sports scholarship because he hated to stay away from his Mom. Perfect Mamma’s boy. He betrays a rare vulnerability when he narrates how he felt when he missed a flight from London and as a 16 year old how he felt pathetic with hardly any money and weird food in seriously cold weather. He also tells us how the system works in Jamaica from where serious talent has come up in track and field events.
‘The Heart of a Champion, A Mind of Granite‘ talks about how Usain disliked a guy called Andrew Hose and how he disliked big mouths other than his own. He was diagnosed with Scoliosis, which in a 6 foot 5 inches man was a serious problem since he was in the wrong sport, that was what people believed for his height. After his disappointing show in Athens he decided to do away with Coach Coleman who was driving him mad and formed an enduring and winning combination with Coach Glen Mills and the difference the new coach brought in almost overnight.
‘Discovering the Moment of No Return‘ is all about technical aspects of racing. How the body, muscles and the mind of a sprinter are conditioned is dealt with in detail. The loss to Tyson Gay and his desire to beat him is formed here. We also get a glimpse into how Xavier Carter, the X-man had bugged Usain with his antics.
‘Pain or Glory‘ is where he finally decides to give up on 400 metres as a serious event. How he bet with coach about achieving 10.3 sec in 100 metres and giving up 400 and his success. That was in 2007 and that changed the course of sprinting history. He had done 10.03 in his first attempt. Rest as we say is ‘History’. He explains the anatomy of 100 metres race. His friendship with Wallace, the cut-throat rivalry between US and Jamaican federations and Tyson Gay. Finally his first 100 metres world record of 9.72 sec. His liking for Asafa Powell and dislike for most other athletes is hardly concealed.
‘Go Time‘ and ‘Now Get Yours‘ chapters are all about the Olympics in China, binging on chicken nuggets, playing up to the crowd, three new world records and three Olympic Golds for Usain Bolt, the New Superstar on the horizon. His ‘To Di World‘ Thunderbolt salute is explained and how the showmanship had made him a huge global star in a span of two weeks.
‘The Economy of Victory‘ details the economics, the big money, super-stardom and his own efforts to stay grounded. ‘The Message‘ continues from where he had left in the first chapter. His recovery after the accident, the pain and finally a new world record in Berlin.
‘A Flash of Doubt, A Lifetime of Regret‘ tells his disqualification due to false start at Daegu, South Korea and emergence of Yohan Blake, a serious talent fro his own backyard. In ‘This is My Time‘, he tells us how he lost top Blake and then told him, “Yo Blake, that will never happen again, NEVER”. His own follies, screwing up with training, gym and lot of partying and junk-food had done him in. But he would never allow Blake to beat him again. Blake’s gesture of ‘Sssshhhhh’ had him so pissed off, he became more determined to to prove ‘This is My Time’, all over again at London in 2012. There are condom stories and then there is Justin Gatlin and his pompous self and then the public announcement, “Yohan Blake, You will NOT beat me in the 200 metres”.
‘I am Legend‘ is the story of another triple Olympic Golds, a return gift of ‘Ssshhh’ to Blake and a bit of Carl Lewis hammering for casting doubts on the cleanness of Jamaican athletes by the former American legend.
‘Rocket to Russia and Beyond‘ is the last chapter on his exploits in 2013, especially in Moscow and his plans for future. He believes he still has it in him perhaps to give another shot at Olympic glory. But he also divulges plans to play European club football after hanging his boots. The appendix gives a neat list of his achievements from 2001 season to 2013 June.
In acknowledgements, he is effusive in his praise for his parents, his family, his close friends and business partners. He calls his Coach Glen Mills, a second father. He also thanks Dr. Hans Muller-Wohlfhart and his masseur Eddie for keeping him fit through the years.
The Usain Bolt autobiography comes across as cocky to the people who don’t know him or don’t understand how the high profile superstar has lived and lived up to break records time and again. People with typical Indian submissive mentality might definitely brand this as extreme arrogance. But having seen the natural and awe-inspiring cockiness of people like Vivian Richards, I believe it is trait in-built for these species just like the Champion genes they carry.
Forget everything and ‘bask in the glory’ of the tallest sporting superstar of our times. And then remember, tomorrow someone else will take his place and perhaps the records. But NOBODY can ever take those Olympic Gold Medals from him and that is why, “Usain Bolt is a Living Legend”.
Strongly recommended for all sports-persons who would love to climb higher and to all those who love sports, just to understand the ‘Mind of a Champion’ !
Book Title: Usain Bolt, Faster than Lightning: My Autobiography
Usain Bolt, Matt Allen
An imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
Published in 2013 September
Soft-cover version for sale in India: Rs. 399