Is Usain Bolt Training for a comeback? A Visual Investigation

The fastest man alive posted a video of himself back training this week. But is the video authentic?

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Michael Doyle
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Investigative journalist and editor based in Toronto

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This week, Usain Bolt posted a curious short video on Instagram that has track fans speculating that he might be back training, perhaps to mount of comeback after more than six years in retirement.

In the video the fastest man alive is going to work, running up a set of stairs in the bleachers at an otherwise empty track and field stadium. Very Rockyesque.

As he draws near the camera, we can hear the diegetic sound of Bolt breathing hard, and of his nimble footfalls. He’s clearly digging deep. It’s a beautiful sight to see.

Bolt dropped the short clip on Wednesday with a simple caption that reads:

“What we been through is more than tongue can tell #BornFighter #unstoppable 💪🏿”

Born fighter… Fighting to get fit again, perhaps? In just two short days, it’s garnered more than 166,000 likes and nearly 800 comments, mostly fans asking Bolt if he’s preparing for a comeback.

An intrepid track fan posted the video on LetsRun.com’s message board, speculating that Bolt was either preparing to come out of retirement, Tom Brady styles, or teasing the track world with a publicity stunt. The next day, the video was featured on the site’s main page. A news aggregator even picked it up, with the title “Usain Bolt Races Stadium Stairs, Proving Speed’s No Bound Constraints.”

Bolt does seem like he misses the limelight. A consummate showman, since retiring in the summer of 2017, the 100m and 200m world record holder has kept himself busy, and is no stranger to publicity stunts or off-the-cuff comments on social media that he may one day make a return.

Since hanging up the spikes, Bolt has repped everything from discount cell phone carriers, to Bolt branded scooters, Bolt branded ultracompact EVs, computer printer ink,luxury watches, and even the Olympic Games itself. Most recently, he’s been flogging pretend Usain Bolt 100 dollar bills. A couple years back, he even raced comedian Kevin Hart on a beach while publicizing an online poker site.

Spoiler alert: Bolt gave him a nine-second head start and still beat him.

This IG video of Bolt working out is also not the first time he teased a comeback as a professional athlete. In late 2018, he took to the pitch for a top level Australian league team, living out a lifelong dream of becoming a professional soccer player.

He even managed to score, twice.

Bolt also fancies himself a musician, even investing some of his wealth to explore the music industry, starting his own label, A-Team. The Instagram video in question is actually also soundtracked by a song called “Unstoppable,” which the Jamaican superstar co-produced with a musician named DMajor back in September. A quick scroll through Bolt’s IG reveals that he spends quite a bit of time with his entourage in the studio, fussing with various iterations of this single. There’s even an acoustic version.

Since retiring in 2017, Bolt has been busy. So, why would he contemplate a comeback? Perhaps he misses the grind. The action is the juice, as they say.

The video is cleverly spartan, but perhaps there are clues that could provide further insight. Let’s tear the video clip apart, shall we?

A Closer Look At The Video

At just 26 seconds, the clip is tantalizingly short, and its seeming lack of context begs further investigation.

In the opening seconds, he charges up the stairs, working on both strength and speed. The camera pans to follow him as he reaches the top steps, and a visibly winded Bolt, hands on his knees, motions the person filming him to turn the camera away, as he’s in a vulnerable moment. This is the fastest man alive, struggling to complete a stair circuit.

The final seconds of the video show Bolt pivot, presumably heading back down to perform another stair interval. Then, the video abruptly ends.

Where is it filmed?

It’s difficult to identify when and where the video was filmed. There is no time stamp, and Bolt’s vague IG caption implies it might be recent.

But a closer examination of the surrounding stadium provides some clues.

As Bolt draws closer, the camera begins to pan, revealing the length of the stadium in the background, as well as an uncommon feature: a asphalt velodrome loop around the outer edge of the blue Mondo surface running track. The track itself is also eight standard lanes.

The stadium itself has two other distinctive design elements that can be identified within this short video. First, as Bolt nearly completes the stair climb, the stadium’s entry/exit tunnels are visible in the background, painted a distinctive royal blue.

Second, when Bolt reaches the top of the bleachers, the back wall of the stadium is another standout colour, this time a lighter turquoise shade.

The stadium is almost certainly Jamaica’s National Stadium, in the Independence Park area of the capital Kingston. It’s hosted a number of Bolt’s great domestic races over the years, and was the site of his last ever professional race, a ceremonial feting of the world record holder, in the summer of 2017. He won that race.

The stadium is supposed to undergo a massive renovation, which will remove the 500m velodrome loop, producing a few thousand more seats closer to the track. The proposal also calls for a complete roof enclosure around the stadium. It is unclear if construction is as of yet underway, but the plan is to keep the track and field open during the renovation.

Oh, and there’s a pair of statues at the front entrance of the building: one of Bob Marley, who played a legendary concert at the stadium in 1978 during a period of civil unrest in Jamaica; the other statue is of Usain Bolt.

Here’s an aerial view of the stadium and surrounding area, with the stairs where he is doing the repeats in the Instagram Reel highlighted:

Dating the video provided more challenging, but a closer look at a few key details could triangulate roughly when the footage was filmed.

The stadium itself does provide a few basic hints. In more recent footage on YouTube of events at the stadium, the flag poles are always without flags and bare. But in Bolt’s video, they are adorned with small yellow, green and black flags, collectively the colours of the Jamaican flag. Older photographs and video clips, dating back several years, show the stadium with these same flags.

What About Bolt’s Clothing?

In the video Bolt posted, just as he’s about to walk away from the camera after climbing the stairs, he sticks his hand in front of the camera, as he recovers before heading back down the steps. A signet ring is clearly visible on his left middle finger.

A closer look at Bolt’s races early in his career show him wearing this ring often, even in races. He wears the ring consistently, up until the Rio Olympics, his last Games, where he won three gold medals. He can be seen wearing the ring in a photoshoot below.

Right around when Bolt retires in 2017, he stops wearing the ring entirely, in any context, be it a professional photoshoot for a watch promotion, an appearance hyping the 2024 Paris Olympics as a torchbearer, or a casual selfie while at an F1 event in Dubai earlier this year.

But perhaps the most telling detail in the video, which may reveal the year it was made, is in what Bolt is wearing. Because he’s shirtless and wearing a fairly featureless pair of black shorts, there are few clues with his clothing.

It’s all about the Shoes

But his shoes are another story.

He appears to be wearing a pair of Puma trainers, which is unsurprisingly, as Bolt has been the German brand’s top athlete for much of his career. But the specific model of shoe is not a current model on Puma’s website. A closer look at the detailing of the shoe reveals what looks like an “800” around the heel area.

In 2012, Puma released a basic, everyday trainer called the Faas 800 (the 800 was a rating scale, with 0 being stiff as a board, and 1,000 being pillowy soft; the 800 was meant to be a fairly cushiony and long-lasting everyday trainer).

The colourway on Bolt’s feet in the video was either never officially released, or has been lost to time on the internet, which isn’t surprising, as 11 years might as well be 1,100 online. But a closer inspection all but confirms this is a very old running shoe, and the same exact model as the model on the right, which was $99 USD, many, many years ago.

The final piece of evidence that all but confirms that this video is from 2012 is found within the comparison of the two images below.

One is a still from the video Bolt posted this week, just before it comes to an end. He is presumably headed back down the stairs for another gruelling interval. As he takes a step, the bottom of his shoe is visible.

The corresponding image appears to show Bolt, from a totally different vantage point running in the same shoes, and the same shorts. This perspective isn’t from the video Bolt posted to Instagram this week. It’s from a blog post dated November 2012. In it, the author says they sourced the image from Bolt’s own Facebook page at the time. (The image is no longer on Bolt’s official Facebook page).

Perhaps Usain Bolt has been secretly preparing to mount a comeback at 37, still the iconic face of Puma, but refusing to upgrade his gear, like an aesthetic monk, as he obsessively trains in 11 year-year-old shoes. Or, perhaps he’s just trying to stay fit after a retirement that seems to feature a few too many Michelob Lites on a few too many yachts? Or maybe he just wanted to match his newest preoccupation, music production, with a bit of nostalgia, and get track nerds opining for the glory days along with him.

We await Bolt’s next (probably archival sourced) training IG Reel. Until then, at least we’ll always have Berlin.

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Investigative journalist and editor based in Toronto

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