Usain Bolt talks Olympic history, racing in the U.S., more in Q&A

Usain Bolt
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NEW YORK — Usain Bolt made a rare appearance in the U.S. on Wednesday, about 10 days after he ended an abbreviated track season and one day after playing cricket in India.

OlympicTalk caught up with Bolt. Here are excerpts from the interview:

OlympicTalk: If you were president of the IAAF and could change one thing about track and field, what would it be?

Bolt: One thing I’d have to really try to address is always going to be drug use. I think one thing I would put in place is that if you make a mistake, you get a ban for a couple years. But if you seriously did it on purpose, you should be banned for life.

OlympicTalk: If you were president of the International Olympic Committee and could change one thing about the Olympics, what would it be?

Bolt: I don’t know. I think the Olympics is a great competition. I really don’t have an issue with the Olympics. They work well.

OlympicTalk: Who do you consider the greatest Olympian of all time?

Bolt: Herb McKenley. (McKenley, the first Jamaican Olympic 100m medalist, won four Olympic sprint medals over the 1948 and 1952 Olympics.) Back in the days, these guys are my idols growing up. I live to see these guys. These guys really pushed the barrier coming up and did great for Jamaica starting out. I lived to see these guys and be just like them.

OlympicTalk: Your confidence is obvious, but what would it take for even a little self-doubt to creep in between now and the Rio Olympics? Injuries? Somebody else running extremely fast?

Bolt: I never doubt myself. In life, you learn that you will lose some. For me, I’m always confident. As long as I’m fit, I’m confident. If I get injuries, I slightly won’t be so confident, but I’m always going to be ready to race.

OlympicTalk: What is the most stinging defeat you’ve had in your career, aside from the false start in the 2011 World Championships 100m final?

Bolt: That’s it, [the false start in 2011]. That’s really it. My coach, when I started out, they would always talk, “You’re going to lose some. You’re never going to win every race.” So when I lose, it’s never a big deal to me. It’s just something to learn from, to move on from.

OlympicTalk: A lot of people don’t know that you competed in the 2004 Olympics in Athens. What do you remember about that experience?

Bolt: Not much. Seeing Yao Ming for the first time. That’s one thing that always sticks in my mind. And it was hot as hell.

OlympicTalk: You’ve visited a lot of places, like India just now. Is there anywhere you haven’t been where you would like to visit and/or race?

Bolt: Thailand and Greece, the islands of Greece.

OlympicTalk: If you raced Justin Gatlin this season, do you think you would have been able to beat him?

Bolt: [Takes a second to think] Well, if I had gotten a little bit more races under my belt, yeah. But perfect conditions, if he’s running 9.8, I don’t think so. I don’t think I would beat him.

OlympicTalk: We haven’t seen you race in the U.S. since you broke your first world record in 2008. There are a lot of sponsor issues and things you can’t totally control, but if it comes down to the end of your career and you still haven’t raced here since 2008, are you going to make it a point to say, “I want to do a race in the United States again?”

Bolt: As you said, Adidas took over the race [the annual Diamond League event in New York that was under Reebok sponsorship in 2008]. So it’s Adidas athletes [Bolt is sponsored by Puma]. For me it would be cool. It’s always good because I know that all the fans always give a great reception every time I come to the meet in New York.

OlympicTalk: We see how great it is to be Usain Bolt. What’s the worst part of being Usain Bolt?

Bolt: Being Usain Bolt [laughs]. I think it’s going out and not being able to just relax sometimes. Sometimes you go to have a bite to eat. You just want to chill, and all these fans want pictures and stuff.

OlympicTalk: The biggest sports star in the U.S. right now is LeBron James. The last time we saw you in the U.S., you were courtside at a Miami Heat game watching him. Did you meet him there? If so, what did you talk about?

Bolt: No. I’ve met LeBron before. He’s a great motivator. He’s a hard worker. I follow him on Instagram, so I see the work he puts in and the determination he has. I have nothing but respect for him also.

OlympicTalk: We see you being brought into meets onto the track in cars, in rockets, in Humvees, and the presents people give you. And obviously in Glasgow at the Commonwealth Games, the lap around the track with all the selfies was pretty amazing. Can you point out one moment in your career that really blew your mind?

Bolt: One of the moments was actually Beijing, on my birthday, when I came out and the whole crowd sang happy birthday for me. That was an experience. That was like wow.

OlympicTalk: Any souvenirs you take from every Olympics, outside of your medals or track kits?

Bolt: I always collect the mascots. My mom or friends always steals them, so right now I don’t have them though.

Lolo Jones is second track Olympian to go on ‘Dancing with the Stars’

Katie Ledecky talks swimming legacy and life in Gainesville

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OlympicTalk recently caught up with Katie Ledecky to discuss life since moving from Stanford to Florida 15 months ago, her meticulous mindset, and the legacy she continues to build.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can also catch an encore presentation of Ledecky’s performance at the 2022 U.S. Open this Saturday at 4:30 pm ET on NBC.

What does a typical day look like for you Gainesville? Walk me through a full day starting from the minute your alarm clock goes off.

Ledecky: A typical day would be waking up at 5 o’clock in the morning and swimming from 6 to 8. Then I have weights from 8 to 9:15. I get breakfast, have lunch and then take a nap. Then I have practice again at 2 or 3 in the afternoon for another two hours.

Wow, that sounds incredibly busy! Have you had a chance to find any new favorite places to eat in Gainesville?

Ledecky: I’m still kind of finding my spots. There is a breakfast spot pretty close to campus that a lot of the swimmers like, so I go there quite a bit, but I’m still looking. I haven’t gone to very many places more than once.

What are you doing in your free time? Are you coaching?

Ledecky: Yes, I’m volunteering with the [University of Florida] team, but I think of myself more as a teammate. I have a lot of other things going on with sponsorships, but aside from that, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends. I have a piano and enjoy playing that!

How often do you get to see your family?

Ledecky: My parents, David and Mary, still live in the D.C. area, and then my brother, Michael, lives in New York, so I’m a lot closer to home [than at Stanford]. I see them around the holidays, and they come to a lot of my swim meets.

I know how much you love to stay academically engaged. Are you taking any classes at the University of Florida?

Ledecky: I’m not taking any classes right now. I’m taking a break, but I’m still trying to learn as much as I can just in other areas, reading a lot and watching the news, following different things that I’m interested in. I think at some point, I’ll probably go to grad school, but I’m still figuring out what area that would be in right now.

There’s a quote, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I feel like that only scratches the surface of describing your work ethic and mindset. You demand excellence in every area of your life, not just from yourself, but from others around you. Can you talk about where that mindset comes from?

Ledecky: I’ve always had that kind of a mindset. I’m very driven, and I’m always setting new goals for myself no matter what I’ve achieved in the past. I’m always looking forward, I don’t take very many breaks, and so it’s always on to the next goal and making sure I’m doing the little things right and doing the things I need to do to reach my goals.

To be able to perform at the level that you do every single day takes a lot of mental toughness. What do Katie Ledecky’s inner thoughts look like? What do you tell yourself? Any affirmations? 

Ledecky: I try to stay positive no matter how well or how poorly a practice or a race is going. When I’m swimming, I give myself positive mental pep talks along the way throughout a race. I’ll say “keep it up,” “hold pace” or “hit this turn.”

I just want to read you a few tweets… 

You idolized Michael Phelps when you were younger, and now you’re that person for a lot of people. You’re the GOAT. You’re Katie Ledecky. Someone’s idol. What does that feel like?

Ledecky: It’s an honor to have young swimmers look up to me, and I don’t take that lightly. I try to be a good role model and reach out to young kids and sign autographs and take photos if people approach me at swim meets. I hope that there are some young swimmers out there that will grow up to be champions or maybe they’ll just continue to love the sport or find other things that they’re passionate about, but it’s an honor.

Have you had any memorable interactions with young swimmers?

Ledecky:  Yeah, actually the World Cup in Indianapolis [in November]. We were given those giant checks at the end of the meet that you really can’t travel with, so I was able to sign it and give it to one of the basket carriers at the meet. They were thrilled, and it was fun to be able to put a smile on their face.

Give me just one word to describe each of these milestones in your life, starting with the 2012 Olympics.

Ledecky: The first. It was my first international competition and my first gold medal, so that’s the one that’ll probably be the most special for me forever.

OLY-2012-SWIM

2016 Rio Olympics.

Ledecky: Consistency. I was swimming in multiple events at the Olympics for the first time and I just got into a really good rhythm and felt so comfortable in the pool deck. So confident. That was just a very unique feeling.

Tokyo Games.

Ledecky: Tokyo was different with all the COVID protocols. Nobody in the stands. No family there. But it was a lot of fun still, so a lot of great memories with my teammates there.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind at the end of your career? What do you want to be remembered for?

Ledecky: I’d like to be remembered as somebody that worked really hard and gave my best effort every time I got up on the blocks and represented Team USA. Hopefully, I can continue to inspire young kids to work hard in whatever it is that they are passionate about, whether that’s something academic, athletic, or something else. If you find something that you really love, you should go all in on it and try to be the best you can be at it.

You’ve achieved so much in life already personally and professionally, I just want to ask: Are you genuinely happy? Are you satisfied in this season of life right now?

Ledecky: Oh yeah, I’m very happy. I love the sport more and more every year. I get a little sad thinking about the day I will eventually retire–which isn’t anytime soon. I love the sport. I’m trying to just enjoy every day of training and racing and trying to be the best that I can be.

I say this all the time, I never imagined I would even make it to one Olympics and so to be training now to try to qualify for a fourth Olympics is it’s all just icing on the cake at this point and something that I truly enjoy. I enjoy doing it with my teammates, striving for similar goals, and getting to do it with really great people.

Knowing all that you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self — the little Palisades Porpoise?

Ledecky: I don’t have very many regrets or anything in my career, so I think I would just continue to tell myself to have fun and enjoy every moment. Maybe, write down a little bit more early on. I’ve done a better job of journaling and writing down different things so that I can remember them down the road, but I didn’t do as good of a job in 2012 and 2013.

Rapid-fire questions. Race day hype song? 

Ledecky: “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen.

Finish this sentence: I’m not ready for a meet without … 

Ledecky: My suit, cap and goggles.

Did you have AIM back in the day? What was your embarrassing screen name?

Ledecky: I didn’t. I didn’t even have a cell phone until before the London Olympics. I think I actually borrowed my brother’s phone for that, and then we went out and bought an iPad so that I could FaceTime my family from London. I didn’t have an email account either until high school.

Your life is on the line. You need to sing one karaoke song to save it. What are you picking?

Ledecky: Well, USA Swimming did carpool karaoke in 2016 before the Olympics. My car did “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen, which is a great karaoke song because it’s like 10 minutes long so maybe I would choose that just as a fun memory. We also did “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen in 2012. Those are two fun songs with some fond memories.

Post-workout meal?

Ledecky: After morning practice, eggs and toast or veggies and eggs. I love breakfast. I could eat breakfast food for all three meals and I’d be satisfied.

Cheat meal? 

Ledecky: Either pizza or a burger.

If you had to choose another Olympic sport to compete in what would it be and why? 

Ledecky: Probably hockey. I’m not good on skates, but it’s my favorite sport to watch.

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Marie-Philip Poulin is first female hockey player to win Canada Athlete of the Year

Marie-Philip Poulin
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Marie-Philip Poulin became the first female hockey player to win Canada’s Athlete of the Year after captaining the national team at the Winter Olympics and winning her third gold medal.

Poulin, 31, scored twice and assisted once in Canada’s 3-2 win over the U.S. in the Olympic final on Feb. 17. She has scored seven of Canada’s 10 goals over the last four Olympic finals dating to the 2010 Vancouver Games — all against the U.S.

Nine different male hockey players won Canada Athlete of the Year — now called the Northern Star Award — since its inception in 1936, led by Wayne Gretzky‘s four titles. Sidney Crosby won it in 2007 and 2009, and Carey Price was the most recent in 2015.

Poulin is the fifth consecutive Olympic champion to win the award in an Olympic year after bobsledder Kaillie Humphries in 2014, swimmer Penny Oleksiak in 2016, moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury in 2018 and decathlete Damian Warner in 2021.

Canada’s other gold medalists at February’s Olympics were snowboarder Max Parrot in slopestyle, plus teams in speed skating’s women’s team pursuit and short track’s men’s 5000m relay.

In men’s hockey, Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in leading the Colorado Avalanche to the Stanley Cup and the Norris Trophy as the season’s best defenseman.

The Northern Star Award is annually decided by Canadian sports journalists.

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