Usain Bolt on Chasing a Runner’s High and Athletes Breaking His Records

July 28, 2021


Usain Bolt is running late to our Zoom interview.

He’s doing a lot of these today. The Olympics have arrived, and the fastest man in history is spending his time a little differently than he would’ve a decade ago. Bolt is here to promote the Michelob ULTRA Beer Run, wherein we mortal runners (and people doing other forms of exercise) can log our workouts and get free Michelob ULTRAs at bars this summer.

 

 

I’m excited, because I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed the best in the world at anything, but also because I was objectively faster than Bolt at getting to our Zoom call. I can now tell everyone I know that I was faster, in at least one area, than the fastest man ever. When Bolt does finally appear on screen, I ask if he minds if I brag about this small achievement, and he laughs. Then he straightens up and tells me matter-of-factly that it only matters on the track. Fair enough.

During our call, Bolt and I talked about beer for a minute, and then we moved on to the Olympics, USA Track and Field’s decision to leave Sha’Carri Richardson off its roster for Tokyo, the runner’s high, how he would have fared in an Olympics without fans, and more. Check out our (lightly edited) conversation below.

Men’s Journal: What can you tell me about the Michelob ULTRA Beer Run?

Usain Bolt: If you can prove that you go running, you go to the gym, you do yoga, even cycling—any form of workout you can prove to us by going to our website or to any of our social media handles—you will get a free beer. And this promotion is running all summer. You can get a free Michelob ULTRA on us.

So if I show that I ran a 5K today, that’s a free beer?

For free. For sure.

When you were competing, would you allow yourself to have a beer?

For sure. You have to make time to relax. You work hard, but you have to enjoy it. You can’t just work, work, work. You have to enjoy the work that you put in. So I’d definitely allow myself to just relax and have a beer.

One of the big stories around Olympic track this year has been Sha’Carri Richardson being left off the U.S. team because she had smoked weed. To be clear, is weed a performance enhancer for running? Would you ever smoke it in order to run faster?

I would not know. There’s a list that they show you as an athlete. They tell you, “This is banned. You can’t use it.” So I’ve never really gone into it and tried to figure out if it makes you run faster, or if it doesn’t make you run faster. As long as it’s on the banned list, you avoid it. That’s how I look at it.

I’d just say, you know, it’s tough on her [Richardson]. I know she’s going through a tough time with the loss of her mother and everything. I’d just tell her she just needs to re-focus, and the people around her need to support her and help her to stay on the right path and get back on track. It’s not the end of the world. She still has a bright future ahead of her.

You’re a leader in track. Would you support any changes to track federations’ rules on weed, given what we know about it?

If they do their research and decide that, “Listen, it doesn’t help you to run fast,” then yeah, for sure. It should change. But it’s all up to the people who make the rules to determine that. I can’t determine that. But if they do their research and it shows differently, then it should be changed.

As a competitor, if you found out someone had smoked a joint a month before a race, would you have been OK with them competing?

For me, I always just focus on who’s there. It’s not my job to figure out if you did something bad. As long as you’re on the line as a competitor, I just focus on trying to beat you. I really don’t follow if you got tested once for drugs or whatever. For me, if you show up on the line on that day, you’re my competition. I don’t really worry about that. I let WADA and the IOC and everyone else worry about that. My job is to compete against you.

I’ve always wanted to ask someone who’s the best in the world about this, especially a runner. A lot of us get a runner’s high when we set a personal best, like my best 10-miler or 5K. You can’t be in anyone else’s body, but is there a “Usain Bolt runner’s high” that you think is different than what the rest of us experience?

It’s definitely a great feeling, trust me. Even when we’re in training and you PB [personal best], it feels good. It feels good to know that the work you’re doing is paying off. When I compete and I win, that’s why I celebrate so much, and you can see it come out. That’s just my high. I’m like, “Oh my god, this work that I did paid off.” It’s always just a vibe. Just to know that you did your best and you ran faster than you did last week; it’s a great feeling.

Do you still get a feeling of euphoria out of it, even if you’re just running in the backyard?

I ride on my bike and on my Peloton. Every time I do better, it’s the same feeling, because I’m very competitive. So I try to push myself to be better and better and better all the time. I definitely still get that, for sure.

You mentioned how you’d celebrate after a big race. Did you enjoy playing to a crowd? And do you think it would’ve been tougher, if—as is the case in Tokyo—there weren’t people in the stands to watch you?

Definitely. I don’t think I could’ve done it right now. I live for crowds, and I live for those moments. That first time into the stadium when the crowd goes crazy, it gives me that energy and that vibe to want to compete and do great. To walk into a stadium—an empty stadium—it must be tough. It’s gonna be tough on these athletes to compete at their highest level. I’d just tell them to focus, to work hard, to be determined, and push on.

In some ways, every sprinter in the world is coming for you because of all the records you’ve set. You haven’t had many of your records broken, but American Erriyon Knighton did break one of your junior records in the 200-meter sprint this summer. Some sports legends are excited when a record of theirs gets broken, and some are not. How did you feel?

You’re never too happy when your records get broken. But for me to see someone at his level, it excites me. I think, “How is he going to continue? What level is he gonna be at? How is he gonna handle the pressure?” Because continuing is the hard part. I’m definitely gonna keep my eyes on him, and I’m happy for him. I’d just tell him to continue working hard, to be determined, and to push for his goal.

Of your many records that are still standing, is there one you’re worried someone might break, or one you think will last for the rest of your lifetime?

I don’t know. I really don’t know which one. The 200 meters is my favorite, because the 200 is my favorite event. If I could choose one to stay forever, it would be my 200 meter record for sure.

But I didn’t run for world records. I run to win, to win gold medals, because records will go. No matter how long they stand up, they will go eventually. But I set a high standard for someone to try to get, and I know that’s not gonna be easy. That’s how I look at things.

Was your primary competition Usain Bolt or the athletes on the other blocks?

I live for competition, so I do take everybody beside me seriously as the competition. When somebody shows up and I know they’re in great shape and I know I have to be in better shape to beat them, that’s what drives me. So I do compete with people who are there against me.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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