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There’s probably not many who don’t know the name. Nicknamed “Lighting Bolt,” Usain Bolt has earned his place in the pantheon of sports dominance, earning nine Olympic Gold medals (to date) and a number of world records, a sprinter of near incomparable speed and personality that has earned him legions of fans world wide. His presence alone packs stadiums, all wanting to watch history in the making, to witness the creation of a legend. For those who do see him, he rarely disappoints.
I’ll say straight away, I was one of them. In 2011, at the World Championships in Daegu, he raced in the 200 meters, defending his world record. I watched as he won easily, setting a world leading time of 19:40. When he finished, he jogged around the huge arena and stopped below where I was sitting and posed for the throngs of photojournalists waiting to get some snaps, raising his arms to the sky in his now iconic Blot stance. I took my own shot (below). It was a thrilling moment.
Five years later, Bolt has gone on to win more and more, including another Gold medal at the Rio Games. Now comes a documentary that examines the rise of the runner and a look inside at his training program and the people who have helped him get to the top of the heap. We spend much of that time with Bolt himself, in his Jamaican homeland, in clips and footage from his beginnings to a lead up to the 2015 Beijing World Championships. It details the ups and downs of training and competition and gives Bolt a lot of room to share a bit of his personal side while many who have been part of his glory and those who have been in awe of his feats tell their side of the story.
Directed by Benjamin Turner and Gabe Turner, I Am Bolt is less of a documentary that looks at the origins and inspirations of the athlete and more of a tag-a-long as we travel around the world, often times with Bolt himself picking up the camera and recording himself, these moments mostly in the middle of the night in a hotel room when he can’t sleep, commenting on his life and sometimes, even singing.
The film concentrates a lot on Usain recovering from an ankle injury as he battles with wondering if he still has what it takes anymore. Other Olympic athletes chime in, including Serena Williams, explaining about the loneliness of being a personal competitor, revealing that the demons inside become the only true opponents. The film swings from celebratory explosions of stadium-wide elation to isolated moments of self-reflection. What does it take to be the best in the world?
The film exists as a testament to the indomitable human spirit, as any good sports doc should, and while there are a lot of great behind-the-scenes moments that illuminate what a day in the life of a world-class athlete is like, the film as a whole ultimately can’t quite give Bolt the majesty he seems to command. It takes great pains to bring us down to his side, to demonstrate that he is just a man, despite his prowess, but we spend far too much time hanging around him and his crew with smartphone cameras goofing around hotel rooms and local tracks that we lose a sense of that legendary feel his professional persona has so effectively instilled. Bolt is a charming and humble guy, even though he thrives on international competition and occupying the highest seat on the world athletic stage. It’s just too bad the movie couldn’t make his journey there a bit more compelling.
I Am Bolt is a solid look at a figure who will long be remembered for his contribution to the world of sport. While it might have done better to give more insight into the races themselves, there’s still plenty here that proves Usain Bolt worked hard to earn his place in the field.
Directors: Benjamin Turner, Gabe Turner
Stars: Usain Bolt, Pele, Neymar, Serena Williams