Talking “smack” to a 16-year-old schoolgirl is hardly fair but when it is Usain Bolt you know not to take it seriously.
Bolt was lined up in the lane next to Riley Day in a mixed relay event at the opening Nitro Athletics series meet at Melbourne’s Lakeside Stadium on Saturday night when the eight-time Olympic gold medallist began trash talking the Australian teenage sprint sensation.
“He was talking smack, he was like ‘we’re going to win, we’re going to win’,” laughed Day.
“I was like ‘I’m not taking this’.”
Day’s humorous anecdote sums up Bolt perfectly, a man who is always looking to have a bit of fun.
But it also highlights the void the Jamaican will leave in track and field when he formally retires after August’s world championships in London.
Bolt’s exploits on the track speak for themselves, however it is his charisma and personality that has helped breathe life into a sport that even its own governing body has described as being “stale”.
You only had to see the number of children still clambering for an autograph or selfie with the 30-year-old more than half an hour after the conclusion of the meet in Melbourne to realise how his popularity will be missed once he takes off the spikes for the last time.
Bolt, though, is intent on keeping track and field relevant long after he has retired and this is why he has happily agreed to be the headline act of Nitro Athletics, a fresh concept introduced by Athletics Australia to ensure it grows in the future by balancing competition with entertainment.
Comparisons to cricket’s Twenty20 were made by several athletes on Saturday night and the hope is the format of Nitro Athletics — which includes non-traditional events such as medley relays, the elimination mile and three-minute distance challenge — will be embraced worldwide.
This is especially the goal of Bolt, who lent his name to one of the six teams contesting Nitro Athletics.
He gave the series debut a pass mark while believing there is still room for improvement ahead of the remaining two meets at Lakeside Stadium on Thursday and next Saturday.
“I think over time we will figure out ways to make it better and perfect it,” Bolt said.
“But it started off good and support was okay, so we are looking forward to [getting] even better.”
Bolt praises ‘energy’ of Nitro crowd
Bolt, as has been his custom, fed off the crowd of 7,039 spectators, an outstanding figure when considering the meet went head-to-head with the Melbourne A-League derby, a AFLW fixture and a Bruce Springsteen concert only a few suburbs away.
He knows the entertainment factor Nitro Athletics provides is crucial for track and field to not only draw crowds but also attract new supporters and he is hopeful this can be kick-started before the series wraps up next weekend.
“That’s one thing I look forward to, the energy of the crowd,” Bolt said.
“They came out and supported and I really appreciated it and I’m urging them to come out the next two days to support this thing.”
What Bolt also appreciates is the camaraderie between athletes, so it will be no surprise if he again takes part in the kind of light-hearted interactions he enjoyed with Day.
“From the start I was talking smack,” he said.
“That’s what makes it so good because they know we are just kidding but we were just having fun. Some aren’t used to engaging with your competitors so it’s different and fun for that.
“Everybody was smiling, enjoying it, so that’s what we wanted and what we need for the sport.”