Legend. Icon. Hero. There are few words left to describe Usain Bolt, the famed Jamaican sprinter whose superhuman feats on the track and boundless charisma both on and off it have surpassed the world of athletics and even sport itself to turn him into one of the most recognisable figures on the planet, a true global icon of the 21st century.
But there is one more descriptor to add that some people might not know about… ‘merengue’. And really, it’s no surprise… after all, what other club could such a legend support, if not the only team to have won nine Champions League trophies?
Bolt’s special relationship with the club began four years ago, specifically on the 29th of August 2009, when he kicked off the inaugural match of the 2009-10 season in the Bernabeu, which saw Los Blancos face Deportivo de La Coruña.
Before the game, he and Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, exchanged jerseys, with Bolt personally signing his Jamaica jersey: “For my team Real Madrid”. The ‘merengue’ jersey Usain received was inscribed with his name and the number 9’58, in reference to his epic 100m record time.
Although the honorary kickoff at the Bernabeu was a somewhat nerve-wracking experience for him, Usain enjoyed the experience so much that he went back for a private tour of the stadium the very next day. He even faced Butragueño for a penalty shootout!
The match also happened to be the debut of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo in La Liga, having arrived in Madrid from Manchester United that summer. Ronaldo sealed his debut with a scored penalty, which was witnessed by Usain from the president’s box. That night, the superstars enjoyed dinner together with their respective agents and closest associates.
As a result of that experience, the two have been friends ever since.
When Bolt was chosen as “Champion of Champions” by L’Equipe in 2009 (an award he also received in 2008 and 2012 for his spectacular Olympic achievements those years), he said that he would have given the award to Cristiano Ronaldo: “He has been able to stay on top, and as I myself know very well, that is the hardest thing to do.” Just last year, in the run up to the Ballon D’Or ceremony, Usain publicly expressed his support for Cristiano, stating: “Without a doubt, Cristiano is better than Messi. He’s a more complete player.”
Two years ago, the Flying Jamaican was in Zagreb, Croatia for his first track meet after winning gold medals in the 200m and 4x100m at the Daegu 2011 World Championships, but disappointingly being disqualified for a false start in the 100m. A Real Madrid contingent, was also in the Croatian capital for their Champion’s League opening match against Dynamo Zagreb, and Bolt invited the squad to witness his 100m “redemption race” after the Daegu fiasco. He won in a season best of 9.85 seconds. The next day, Real Madrid won their match 0-1 with a goal from Angel Di Maria, after a fantastic combination between Benzema and Marcelo, in which the latter provided the final assist to the Argentine.
Unfortunately, then boss Mourinho did not give the players permission to attend, but Florentino Perez and Emilio Butragueño were in attendance and gave Bolt another Real Madrid jersey to add to his collection, this time one belonging to his friend CR7 which had been signed by the whole team.
More recently, Bolt has continued to follow Los Blancos and shortly after Gareth Bale’s arrival in Madrid, even offered to give him some personalised coaching to improve his already impressive sprinting technique: “I have great respect for Real Madrid and if they and Gareth want my help, I would be happy to fly in to give Gareth a private training session.”
After all, as Usain only half-jokingly reminds us: “I helped Ronaldo with his sprint in a training session and look at everything he’s achieved since then!”