IMD International

Secrets of success from Usain Bolt

August 23, 2012

Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth, made his third visit to IMD on August 22 to share the secrets of his continued success with 350 business executives.

You can watch the video of the event here.

The man nicknamed "Lightning Bolt" made history at the London Olympics earlier in August, winning the 100m and 200m races before securing Jamaica's 4x100m gold medal in a world record time. This was a repeat of his performance at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he also won all three events and set world records in each, becoming the first man to do so at a single Olympic Games.

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Bolt explained how he focuses on his strengths rather than his weaknesses, especially in the 100 meters where the start is normally seen as crucial.

"I was always a bad starter. I'm still not great," he said, to laughter from the audience. "My coach Glen Mills told me the last 50 meters is the best part of my race, so I should just concentrate on getting to top speed."

Bolt then discussed how he handles setbacks, including injury problems and criticism early in his career, being eliminated from the 2011 World Championships after a false start and losing to his training partner Yohan Blake earlier this year.

"What made me so strong mentally and physically is that I went through everything when I was young, so there are no surprises any more. As long as my coach isn't worried, then I'm not worried," he said.

Regarding his loss to Blake, Bolt said: "I'm happy it happened. It was a good thing. Sometimes you feel you're on the right track but it takes something to show you that you're not. So afterwards I told Yohan 'thanks.'"

Bolt said he is not a morning person - he normally wakes up around 10am - and finds training tough. "It's always been hard. I've got to be very careful in everything I do. If I slack off a bit, my back starts to bother me."

But when race day comes round, Bolt has learnt to relax at the start line.

"I love a great crowd," he said. "I like to interact and perform for them. And I think about random stuff, like what to do after the race – go to dinner, play video games. If you think about the race too much, then the stress begins. At the 2011 World Championships I put more stress on myself and didn't interact with the crowd."

Despite all his gold medals and world records, Bolt said he still has room for improvement.

"In the 100m final in London, I saw I was going to win. So I thought 'world record' and I dipped for the finish line way too early. Afterwards my coach called me an amateur!" he said, to more laughter.

Bolt and his coach will soon meet to talk about next season. He might continue with the 100m and 200m or try another event such as the long jump or the 400m, although Bolt said the training regime for the 400m is extremely tough. "The coach is leaning on me to do the 400m, and I'm leaning away," he said.

With the Rio Olympics four years away, several audience members asked Bolt how he will stay motivated after all he has achieved.

"There are always things to motivate you. There are a lot of different events in track and field, and you can always aim to go faster by tweaking a few things," he said.

"You have to set goals. Mine is to be one of the greatest athletes ever to do the sport. And having a lot of good people around me helps me stay focused. Because you're always going to lose sight sometimes of what you want. Having a supporting team is very important."

And what will Bolt be doing 10 years from now?

"Well, the professional answer is to have a business and work hard. But I also just want to put my feet up and play video games all day!" he said.

The event was moderated by IMD Professor John Weeks and renowned sportscaster Marc Maury, both of whom participated in Bolt's previous events at IMD in 2009 and 2010.

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Usain Bolt talks with IMD Professor John Weeks

Professor Weeks wrapped up the evening by summarizing some lessons from Bolt for the audience to take away.

"Firstly, Bolt is a different type of sprinter who doesn't focus on the start in the 100 meters. The lesson here is to accept you're not perfect, and that the way to excellence is to focus on where you're strong," Professor Weeks said.

"Second is how Bolt deals with setbacks and feeds on them. He's not a workaholic, but when he knows he needs to work, he does."

"Finally, look at his approach to his career. It's the opposite of what Steve Jobs said – that if you wake up in the morning and you're not looking forward to your job, you're in the wrong business. Bolt says training is not fun, and he has to put the work in. The race is when he can relax and have fun. Are we willing to put the work in that isn't fun?"

You can read more of Professor Weeks' reflections on Bolt here and here.

The event was organized by AISTS and IMD, and supported by Athletissima, UBS, Vaudoise Insurance and the City of Lausanne. Bolt competed in the Athletissima event in Lausanne on August 23, winning the 200m in 19.58 seconds.



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