(AFP) Usain Bolt’s journey from country boy to Olympic gold medal hero and global sports icon has its roots in the rugged and isolated Jamaican village of Sherwood Content. Reaching the tiny hamlet entails a jarring but delightful journey. Beginning in Kingston, visitors head north along a newly-built toll road, through a stretch of green hills and rainforests and eventually along a winding, narrow pot-holed road.
Ocean vistas and glistening streams, ideal for rafting or just cooling off, hug the side of the roads. To his proud countrymen, Bolt is a product of his environment, his accomplishments forged in the lifestyle of this rugged mountain region.
There is no mistaking the hand-painted, white stone slab sign advertising the dusty backwater village that produced Bolt. It nestles in the Trelawny hill region on the north side of the island, 110 kilometres northwest of Kingston.
“I taught him at the early stage for two years. He was energetic and big for his age,” said teacher Sheron Seivwright, who remembers Bolt from the first day he started school at age two at Piedmont Basic School.
“We had races on the field and he would cry when the others would beat him,” Seivwright told AFP. There are no streets signs and the confectionary store across the main road from the post office has been without running water for three weeks. Goats and cows wander freely amongst the village’s wood and brick homes.
The village’s inhabitants all plan to gather on Saturday to watch their hometown hero run his final race on Jamaican soil when Bolt headlines a track and field meet put on in his honour at the National Stadium in Kingston.
– ‘Quicksilver in his head’ –
Bolt plans to retire from athletics two months later at the 2017 London World Championships. When Bolt runs in a major competition, about 2,500 people have been known to show up in his hometown to watch the race on an outdoor screen.
“He started at 15 on a winning note and he wants to leave the sport on a winning note. So his main aim is to win here and be in London,” his father Wellesley told AFP while relaxing on the front porch of his newly-renovated home.
Usain St Leo Bolt was born August 21, 1986 and grew up with his half brother and half sister in the village where his parents Wellesley and Jennifer still run a grocery store until Wellesley officially retires next month.
When Bolt was nine, Wellesley took him to see a doctor because the boy couldn’t sit still and didn’t like to be told what to do.
“In those early days I would say he had quicksilver in his head,” Wellesley said.
“I couldn’t control him so I took him to the doctor to find out what was really the problem. The doctor said he was hyperactive.
“The doctor said just keep doing what you are doing but make sure he stays out of danger.” Once Bolt started running and playing cricket at school he began to settle down. A promising batsman and fast bowler, Wellesley and his teachers also saw his potential as a sprinter and urged him to devote more time to track and field.
At age 15, Bolt had already reached his full height of six-foot-five and was towering over his schoolboy competitors. But even before that, he was winning races on a consistent basis. – A prankster –
He left Piedmont Basic School to attend Waldensia Primary School and then it was onto William Knibb High School which offered him a scholarship.
The vice principal of William Knibb has a framed picture high on the wall in her office of a young Bolt ready to explode out of the starting blocks.
“We saw signs of him becoming good and he didn’t disappoint,” Lorna Jackson told AFP. “He has made this part of Jamaica a household name.”
Bolt also had a reputation as being a fun-loving student, who didn’t always train as hard as he should.
“He was a prankster. You would feel a tap on your shoulder and turn around and he would be there saying ‘What was that?'” she said.
Because Bolt would skip practice to hang out with his friends at the local video game arcade, the school had coach Pablo McNeil keep an eye on him.
“I remember he didn’t like training. He would do anything to avoid training so we had a coach whose job it was to find him and drag him back,” Jackson recalled.
Bolt became the youngest ever gold medallist in the World Junior Championships when he won the 200 metres at age 15.
Asked if he ever imagined that Usain would go on to become the world record holder and multiple Olympic gold medal winner in both the 100m and 200m, Wellesley said not at all.
“After the world juniors I said to him ‘it seems like you have some talent and if you train you will go far.’ But I didn’t think he would be the world’s fastest man.”