Usain Bolt’s first trip to Dubai has been a fleeting one. The Jamaican sprint great has had no time for sightseeing, compressing a tight schedule of promotional events into a mere couple of days in the city.
Anyone granted a personal audience with him was given an allocated slot within a regimented programme.
Only someone did not get the memo.
“I wanted [Antonio] Conte,” Bolt said, responding to an ice-breaker about the fortunes of his beloved Manchester United. “He is going to do so well at Spurs. He is going to get them organised.”
That interview? About why he is here in the UAE, the fun run he had around the site of Expo 2020 Dubai, and, ideally, about arguably the most stellar career in the history of track and field? That is going to have to wait.
Bolt is talking football, something for which he has a deep passion, and he is not going to let up any time soon.
“He has been at Chelsea – he won a title,” he points out about the new Tottenham Hotspur manager Conte. “He’s been at Inter Milan – he’s won a title. He’s been at Juve – he’s won a title.
“Everywhere he goes, he structures the team so well. In January, he is probably going to get one or two players, then at the end of the season he is probably going to find proper players and bring them in.”
Tottenham’s gain was United’s loss, he reckons. “We are going to struggle,” Bolt said. “Cristiano [Ronaldo] has saved us every game. One guy has to do all that work. We have not played good football in so long.
“It is so relaxed. We pass so slowly. When Alex Ferguson was manager, we had to win because he would demand you win.”
When Bolt signed off his athletics career in 2017, he had achieved everything his sport had to offer.
Still, he wanted more. He had a crack at football, too, with a view to one day earning a contract at United.
That did not come to pass. But he is still only 35, so plenty of time surely for a go at one more sport?
“Cricket was my first love,” he said. “My dad is a massive cricket fan, so it became my first love and it was something I was really good at when I was younger. Not any more though.
“My brother plays cricket so every now and then I will try and bowl to him. But I have lost it. I know that is not my thing, but football is something I play regularly with my friends.”
Bolt’s flying visit to the UAE did not have a break in play for him to take in a T20 World Cup match. Not that he had too much interest once his team had been knocked out. Which, oddly, was once Pakistan.
“When I was young, I didn’t understand you had to support your own team, so I supported Pakistan,” said Bolt, who has been in Dubai to promote awareness of the Special Olympics.
“Waqar Younis was my favourite player. I was a bowler first. I could bat, but I really loved bowling. That in-swinging yorker that he had, when I was growing up I just really enjoyed watching him bowl. That’s why he was my favourite.
“When I got to about nine or 10, that was when I realised I sort of had to start supporting West Indies, but Pakistan had been my favourite team until that point in time.”
Given his life has been largely defined by timekeeping, Bolt does not seem overly fussed by the schedule he is on. He seems every bit as relaxed as his public persona suggests. This is a man who achieved his most famous career victory, when he broke the 100m world record while winning gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, with one set of laces untied.
“People started talking about it and I started watching the videos, people saying my shoe was untied and I didn’t even notice,” he said. “It could have gone horribly wrong.”
Bolt rates the 19.19sec time he ran to break the 200m record a year later in Berlin as his favourite race, but acknowledges it was 2008 in Beijing which made him a superstar.
“For me, it was never about the world record,” he said. “It was about winning. My main aim was to win.
“That is why I beat my chest when I crossed the line. It was just pure joy. I think ’08 was the hardest I have ever trained in my whole career.
“I worked so hard because I wanted it so bad. It was just pure joy and it just came out. I had done it, and it was a moment I will never forget.”