Life hasn’t been a bed of roses for Yohan Blake. After being considered the next big thing in world athletics, a series of injuries saw the now 29-year-old lose the plot in the middle. But with hard work and determination, the Jamaican sprinter is back in business and wants to win a gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics next year.
“This is going to be my third Olympics, my last. I want to end it with a gold,” a determined Blake said.
On his first trip to India to promote the Road Safety World Series — which begins in February next year — the Jamaican revealed that he was planning to start a training programme in India after the Olympics to discover young talent in the country.
In a chat with Sportstar , Blake spoke about his comeback, his Tokyo 2020 aspirations, and the time spent with sprint ace Usain Bolt, among other things.
What made you come to India and promote the Road Safety World Series?
I do road safety campaigns for the FIA in Qatar and also in Dubai. They reached out to me from India saying that people and kids are dying every minute due to poor road safety. So they asked if I would endorse this league of cricket, and I said I would love to.
What are the aspects that should be kept in mind to create awareness about road safety?
It is very important, especially in India where you have millions of people living and also travelling on the roads. There are so many vehicles on the road. When you cross the road, you have to be very careful. (If you are driving), you have to be careful too because you are not so busy, you cannot take lives.
There are talks of you playing in a couple of matches in the league...
Some of my friends will be playing in the tournament. I will try and see what can be done because the tournament will be in February and it will be close to the Olympics. I have to be ready for that. I have to start my season in April. There are a few Diamond League races and also some continental tours, so it would be a bit tough. But if I can come and play for a couple of games, I will try. I would just do that for the cause. I want to play, because I love playing cricket.
What are your plans for the Tokyo Olympics. After all, you have a lot to prove… Do you think over the years, the competition has become more intense?
For me, the Olympics is the greatest sport (event) on Earth. The event in Tokyo is going to be epic because they are known for keeping a lot of outstanding events for the Olympics. The blue carpet is something everyone is looking for, apart from anything.
Everyone dreams of a medal at the Olympics. How challenging does it get for an athlete to deliver despite the pressure mounting?
Yes, you are right. Everybody waits for four years, but you don’t know if you would win a medal or will there be a false start. You don’t even know if you can make it to the final. It is very, very emotional for an athlete when you train and it doesn’t happen.
Ahead of the Olympics, is there anything that you are working on?
I am not working on anything, it is just to have fun in whatever I do. This is going to be my third Olympics. I want to win a gold here and I am going to get it.
That’s exciting to hear. Years ago, when you started, there was competition between you and Usain Bolt. And the world of athletics took note of the Beast — as you are fondly called. But many feel that over the years, the Beast has become more calm. What’s the reason?
You are right. Bolt was a hero and the fastest man. Taking on a six-foot giant wasn’t easy and brought the Beast in me. That inspired me. But then I got injured, and things changed. You know when the Beast is wounded, he goes into a shell and gets more nervous about racing. That changed the whole perspective about everything.
But earlier, you were more aggressive on the starting block…
Like I said, everything changed. I can’t push too hard, can’t take my time, so it’s not that easy. Everything changes.
For an athlete, how is that phase when you want to rule the world, but your body gives up. Could you take us through the phase of your injury and how you got back in shape?
It’s frustrating and emotional to know that you are currently not getting what you want. It puts you in a shell and into a space of mind that is not right. In Jamaica, they are all looking up to you to win a medal. It’s not easy but I had belief in myself.
How was the support system when ‘The Beast’ was injured…
(Laughs) The support from the sponsors were really great. Adidas was really helpful and was by my side. Also, my girlfriend Laura (Pearson). They were always there by my side and supporting saying, “Yohan, you can still do it. People still want to see you run…” Those motivations helped immensely.
When you were down, did the thought of hanging up your boots cross your mind?
It was hard for me. When I was injured, I headed back to Jamaica and went into the bushes and cried. I didn’t know what to do, but there was a determination that I would pick myself up from here. I heard my coach saying, “He is finished.” That got me really mad. For two weeks, I was hiding. I did not know what to do. I would pray to God to give me strength. Over the months, I picked myself up and proved my coach wrong. I was back again.
How did you do it?
I don’t exactly remember that. I was on a tree in the bushes and was crying. My friends came to search me and when they finally found me, they said that I need to pull myself up.
These days, many of the athletes across sporting disciplines are facing mental health issues. What happens when an athlete gets injured while being in top form, and later struggles to return… What are your thoughts?
A lot of athletes get injured and mentally they are not in a state to come back. They don’t have the mindset of coming back, because it is not easy to train for a year and get back to form. The mentality behind that is crazy. So, it is tough.
When you started, your training regimes were exceptional. And, did working with someone like Bolt actually help you to get better?
You are right. Training with him is difficult because you are training with the best in the world. He was always afraid of me in the training. That’s why they call me the Beast (laughs) . I am vicious when I am training, so for me, it was like pushing each other to get faster each day.
Do you remember any incident when Bolt actually came and praised you after a gruelling training session?
Yeah, definitely. That’s what happened in 2011 before he made a false start at the World Championships. He knew I was coming, so he wanted to get faster, and then…
After the London Olympics in 2012, you had said that you would like to pursue cricket after you are done with athletics. Has the plan changed over the years?
My dream has not changed. I am still going to pursue cricket. But at the moment, the plan has changed a bit. I will come to India after the Tokyo Olympics and will start an athletics programme.
Can you tell us more about your plan to groom India’s young athletes?
Yes, I will start the programme right after the Tokyo Olympics. I will come here and work with the young athletes, because India has got such a wide range of people and we will find some good talent. The plan is on.
What are your thoughts on West Indies cricket?
They fired everyone (the old officials) in the West Indies Cricket Board. That’s something I am happy about. Kieron Pollard is the captain for the One-Day and the T20I sides and he is a very good leader. We are heading in the right direction. We want some more Test matches because the World Test Championship is on. We are going to step up.
Expectations were high from the West Indies side during the World Cup. Despite having a star-studded side, how saddening was it to see West Indies failing to make it to the knock-outs?
We should have been more dominant in the World Cup. We started well, defeating Pakistan and then we lost. I think it’s time for the guys to step up and know their worth and also emulate a Virat Kohli, Mayank Agarwal or a Cheteshwar Pujara. They are very patient at the crease, so if our guys can take a leaf out of their page, they can do even better.
You have quite a few friends in the West Indies cricket team. Have they told you where they are going wrong?
We have got some really good guys. Jason Holder got to the top in the bowling rankings. Shai Hope is coming through really well. So, there are great guys, it’s just they need to keep their head and perhaps learn a lesson or two from the Indians.
From 2012 to 2019, what has changed as far as athletics is concerned?
Technology has changed and it has made people lazy. They don’t want to work hard (laughs) .
Over the last few years, corruption has been a major concern across sporting disciplines. Your thoughts...
There will always be corruption. There are people who always want to cheat the system and they always want money. It’s going to be hard (to curb it), no matter how much effort you put in.
In the last few years, doping has hurt athletics. Do you think that youngsters are getting more and more attracted towards quick success?
It should be a fair game. I think people want fast success and fast money. But I am sure, it’s going to be better. Efforts are being taken to make things better.
You spoke about your future plans and cricket, but you have also been into music. What’s happening on that front?
(Laughs) I just listen to a music and do a bit. I will probably do one for you guys here in India.
Do you plan to continue even after the Tokyo Olympics?
I plan to continue for one more year after the Tokyo Olympics. But I would mostly be in India, working on my athletics programme with the youngsters.
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