NEW YORK (AP) — Usain Bolt remembers the rain, remembers the false start, and remembers his excitement at racing a big-name opponent in the 100 meters for the first time.
Just over seven years ago, the Jamaican sprinter arrived at Randall’s Island, east of upper Manhattan, as a 200 and 400 runner considered too tall for the 100. In just slightly more than a blink of an eye — 9.72 seconds, to be exact — Bolt became the sport’s biggest name.
He’s retained that title ever since.
On Saturday, Bolt returns to the stadium where he set his first world record May 31, 2008, in his first individual race in the U.S since then. Now the owner of six Olympic gold medals, he’ll run the 200 at the Adidas Grand Prix, New York’s stop on track’s elite Diamond League series.
Bolt said Friday he hopes to break 20 seconds for the first time this season, a modest goal for someone whose world record is 19.19. Saturday’s 200 does not count for Diamond League points, and no one else in the field has broken 20 seconds in 2015.
Slowed by injuries last year, Bolt’s performances have been unremarkable so far this season: He ran a 10.12 in the 100 at an exhibition in Rio in April (his world record is now 9.58).
But Bolt has looked beatable before when the stakes aren’t the highest. As he matter-of-factly put it Friday: “When it comes to the championship, everything always comes together for me.”
“I never worry,” Bolt said, and he certainly seemed relaxed Friday.
So he can only laugh when he’s asked about American Justin Gatlin, who has run a 9.74 this season and proclaimed that for now at least, he’s the man to beat.
“It’s hard not to see what he’s doing, because he talks a lot,” Bolt said with a wide grin.
The only times that concern him are what he can run at the world championships in China, and Bolt assured everyone he can tell from his training that he’s well on his way to some fast ones. The opening rounds of the 100 aren’t until Aug. 22 — 10 weeks away.
“Everything is coming together,” Bolt said. “I’m feeling better every day in training. All I need to do now is get more races and execute. ... I’m just trying to work my way back into shape, work my way back up the ladder.
“I’m sure when I get to Beijing, I’ll be ready to go.”
After worlds comes the even bigger stage: the 2016 Rio Olympics. Already the only man to win the 100 and 200 in back-to-back Olympics, Bolt wants to separate himself even more from history by doing it three times in a row. And he still wants to break 19 seconds in the 200.
As Bolt himself frequently mentions, he doesn’t particularly enjoy training. But when the major meets near, he always seems to get enough work in, and he said the motivation is still very much there.
“There’s going to be a lot of sacrifice next season,” he said. “I’m going to be dedicated to getting it done.”
Then he plans to compete at the 2017 world championships in London and retire after that, capping a career that took off here in New York.
Bolt arrived in the city in 2008 a few weeks after running an out-of-nowhere 9.76 at a meet in Jamaica. That created an intriguing matchup against American Tyson Gay, then the reigning world champ.
The 100 that night was delayed by thunderstorms, then again by a false start. Gay ran a 9.85, which would have been a strong performance on another day; instead, he lost by .13, an eternity in the 100.
Bolt said Friday he doesn’t miss the anonymity that vanished for him that night. Nothing seems to fluster him — except perhaps getting to meet Barack Obama in April, when the two struck Bolt’s signature pose together during the president’s trip to Jamaica.
“I was playing it cool, but when I actually met him it was a different situation: I was dumbstruck,” Bolt recalled. “I really didn’t know what to say to the president of the United States. It’s one of those moments that puts you in awe.”