I’ve never been very in tune with the Olympic Games. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to tell you the last time I’ve watched the opening ceremony or knew when any of the various events were scheduled. And yet, in 2012 and once again this past summer, I made sure to turn on my TV for the men’s 100-meter, 200- meter and relay events just to get a glimpse of Jamaican phenom Usain Bolt. After all, “No one in the history of humanity has run as fast a Usain Bolt.” Using a mix of current and archival footage; including the heart-stopping footage of Bolt’s historic wins, co-directors Benjamin and Gabe Turner present a comprehensive view of a man’s extraordinary career and exceptional ability in I Am Bolt.
An extremely personal and humorous documentary often told through his own words, I Am Bolt gives us a glimpse behind the legend, revealing an ordinary man who has become a larger-than-life figure. Beginning in August 2015, looking toward the future and revisiting the past, we find the 6′ 5″ track icon moving towards the end of his remarkable career. With numerous World Championships, a then-six time gold medalist (he now has a total of nine consecutive Olympic Gold medals), talks to the camera, longing for the days where he can spend weeks relaxing on the beach with friends or just hanging around his home. With all of the time and energy spent perfecting his craft, it’s clear that Bolt has become somewhat disillusioned with the sport.
From the stadiums and our television screens, we’ve watched Bolt effortlessly catapult himself across finish lines, but those few seconds certainly aren’t without sacrifice. I Am Bolt peels back those layers, revealing just how much Bolt has had to give of himself. Bolt’s career began relatively late, he started running in his rural high school (the same one where activist Marcus Garvey received his education) to win free lunch. Since his first professional appearance at age 15, in the 2002 Junior World Champions, and for the past decade and a half, Bolt’s career has been riddled with injuries. By the time August 2015 rolled around, the nearly 30-year old Gold Medal winner knew that he was on the cusp of retirement, and it would take everything in him and the people that he holds near and dear, to get him to the Olympics one final time. Young people often take for granted their ability to hang out with friends, eat whenever they want, and stay up until ungodly hours of the night, and Bolt has had to give much of that up during his twenties. With sparse free time, two-a-day practices and being essentially confined to his home and hotel rooms because of his vast visibility were beginning to wear on him. As the film moves forward, Bolt’s, joking and bright personality, one that we’ve seen numerous times on the track began to slip away from him.
Still, Bolt’s frustrations didn’t stop his immense likeability in the film. His humanity burst through in I Am Bolt, not simply in the beautiful scenery and his love of his native Jamaica, but also because of his tight-knit team including his parents, his BFF/manager, Nugent “NJ” Walker, and his longtime coach, Glen Mills. It was also his lust for competition that propelled him to and through the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio despite an injury nearly benching him. In the Summer 2016 Olympic Games, it was American sprinter Justin Gatlin‘s return to the track after a doping scandal that kicked Bolt into overdrive. He says in the film in response to Gatlin’s taunting,“I don’t want to lose at any point in my life.”
Two of my sole criticisms of the film would be the fact it often seemed over congratulatory, not that Bolt doesn’t deserve the praise, but after seeing him speak directly to the camera and go about his day to day life, the tone at times felt in opposition to Bolt’s, humble spirit. Also, though the film gets personal, it didn’t seem to go below a surface level at times; letting the viewer deeply within Bolt’s tight-knit circle. Nevertheless, I Am Bolt is a thrilling and warm documentary of a young man whose name is already in the history books.
For now, until he retires for good after the 2017 World Champions, Usain Bolt is simply a world-class sprinter and a Jamaican hero. And yet, despite being one of the best athletes of all time, it is very clear that running is not all Bolt lives for; it is not all that he aspires to be. For him, life is for living.
I Am Bolt theaters Monday, November 28th.