Review – I Am Bolt
Feature length documentary ‘I Am Bolt’ culminates with Jamaica’s spring king winning an unprecented ‘triple triple’ of golds at 100m, 200m and 4x100m at three successive Olympics in Rio, but winds things back to where it all began in rural Trelawny 30 years ago.
“For his height, they say Usain shouldn’t be running so fast, for where he’s from, they are saying he shouldn’t be who he is,” says manager and best friend Nugent Walker, referring to the fact that Bolt grew up poor.
Directors Benjamin Tuner and Gabe Turner capture the humble roots of the world’s fastest man, with contributions from his parents Wellesley and Jennifer, and clips of a young Bolt, his face bearing the mischievous grin now familiar to billions of people around the world.
They trace Bolt’s journey from when he burst onto the athletics scene as a skinny young boy, through to him beating his chest as he crossed the line at in the 100m at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, onto London 2012 and finally to Brazil this summer.
Along the way there are flashbacks to key events such as the World Junior Championships for U20s in 2002, at Kingston’s national stadium, where Bolt, aged, 15, won the 200m in front of his hard-to-please home crowd. Bolt still regards it as his best moment ever.
If you are able to make the Jamaican crowd chant your name at 15, you know you have real potential – and the film shows how Bolt has realised that youthful promise.
The film-makers have no doubt created an inspirational documentary, one which captures the hard work behind Bolt’s seemingly carefree attitude, but it’s not perfect.
“His success hasn’t come as easily as his laid-back persona sometimes suggests”
In a sporting context, questions are left unanswered, such as the drugs scandal that looms over athletics, and the problems Jamaica has had in this regard.
The issue of doping does come up, but it’s at the expense of the former American drug cheat, and once Olympic and world champion Justin Gatlin, stumbling over his words, and angrily responding to a journalist’s probing question on his doping history.
With exclusive access to Bolt, his team and those closest to him, the film-makers missed an opportunity to address the shortcomings in Jamaica’s drug-testing regime.
This could directly impact on Bolt if relay team-mate Nesta Carter alleged use of a banned stimulant at the Beijing Olympics is proved and the 4x100m squad are stripped of their gold medals because of it.
“Work for what you want” – Bolt is captured reminiscing about his father’s message to him as a young boy, and it’s advice he has respected and adhered to.
Training hard twice a day under the tough auspices of long-time coach Glen Mills, altering his lifestyle and diet – all in hope of being regarding as the greatest athlete ever – Bolt is truly shown as his father’s son. His success hasn’t come as easily as his laid-back persona sometimes suggests.
The film also shows Bolt using his rivals’ words as motivation, such as an interview Gatlin gave to TMZ.
“What makes me strive is the fact that they talk all the time,” Bolt says. “When you talk and tell me what you’re going to do, all it makes me want to do is work harder, big up to yourself, Justin Gatlin.”
And yet, it’s often overlooked that Bolt has often not been at his best going into major championships, and Rio was a case in point.
With his season and training regime disrupted by injury in the build-up to the 2016 Games, the film reveals Bolt to be plagued by doubts and sometimes struggling to find the motivation needed to succeed at the Olympics once again.
He is shown seeking advice from friends including four-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson and Australia’s 200m Commonwealth champion John Steffensen.
“The documentary ends with Bolt joining some exalted company in a humble setting that takes the audience back to his origins”
If was as if Bolt felt that there was nothing left prove. As coach Mills puts it: “He’s faced with a gigantic task, it will be like starting all over again.”
Ultimately, it wasn’t his coach or friends, but arch-rival Gatlin who finally awoke the sleeping beast.
The world gets a rare glimpse of Bolt looking frustrated and annoyed as his medical exception from the Jamaican trials has members of Team USA, including Gatlin and Mike Rodgers, making insinuations and casting aspersions.
Famously relaxed by nature, and as an athlete with a completely clean drugs-testing record, he uses their disrespect to ignite the fire within ahead of Rio.
It’s clear from that scene onwards that Bolt finally has all the motivation he needs to defend his own – and his sport’s – reputation, and cement his unbeaten Olympic legacy in Brazil.
A medium close-up shows him to be visually angry over the negative spin of the Americans. He shakes his head, stares into the camera and says: “It’s not going to be the same.”
In that moment the audience can see that the man viewed by many as the saviour of athletics – with all its corruption and drug issues – is ready to show the world how a race should be won. It’s safe to say that Gatlin and Rodgers had no idea what they had done…
Job done in Rio, and retirement now beckons for Bolt after the 2017 World Athletics Championships in London next summer.
But, as the documentary shows, he has already joined some exalted company in a ceremony in a humble setting that again takes the audience back to his origins.
The sprinter sees his portrait join those of Jamaican national icons Nanny the Maroon and Marcus Garvey on the wall at his old school, William Knibb Hill Memorial High.
It captures the love, appreciation and esteem that Jamaicans hold for their finest-ever athlete – one for whom ‘I Am Bolt’ delivers a fitting visual portrait.
For more information about ‘I Am Bolt’ visit the film’s website.