Teacher of the week – the school days of Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt Olympics Celebration

As the London Olympics draw close the Henry Brothers’ “Teacher of the Week” is Dwight Barnet, physical education teacher at William Knibb High School in Trelawny, Jamaica, who was the first to recognise and nurture the talents of the fastest man in the world, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt.

With minimal facilities at the school Barnet coached his 17-year old pupil to become the youngest-ever World Junior Champion, winning the 200 metre race in 2002 at the Jamaica National Stadium. Born in Jamaica on 21 August 1986 Bolt went on to be the first man in history to set world records in all three major sprint events at a single Olympics, when at the 2008 Summer Olympics he ran the 100 metres at 9.69 seconds, the 200 metres at 19.30 seconds and, along with his teammates, the 4×100 metres relay at 37.10 seconds.  He has since broken all three of those records again with even faster times, and has used his fame to promote education through the Usain Bolt Foundation “dedicated to the legacy for happy children; to enhance the character of children through educational and cultural development, as they live their dreams”.

In a BBC interview in 2004, Barnet talked about his former pupil and his approach to school and to athletics. “I saw Usain as a very quiet and humble individual,” he said. “He did not differentiate himself from the other students although he knew he had a vast amount of talent. He has a very high level of self confidence and whenever he goes on the track, he tells himself that he’s going to do it.”

But like so many teenagers Bolt wasn’t focussed all the time and would only push himself enough to get through the next race, the next challenge. In an article in The Australian newspaper in 2008  he said “In only one in 10 of my races do I go all out. Why? I don’t know. I think it’s a bad habit, not very professional. Since I’ve been young I’ve been winning, so I got into the habit. I’m trying to break out of it. But when I really run all out, I’m going to be really tired. So if I see I’m going to win, I do stop and conserve energy.”

And he wasn’t the ideal student all the time either. The head of sports at William Knibb High School, Lorna Thorpe, remembers being in tears trying to get him to train. A tactic that apparently worked!! Along with a strict father and imaginative coaching from Barnet, who would let all the other students start a race first and then send Bolt to catch them up. The teacher also had to change his plans to suit his pupil’s character. Originally planning to train the youngster for the longer and harder 200 metre and 400 metre distances Barnet says. “I actually think he could easily be as good at 400 metres as the 100 metres, but he did not like the 400 metres. I seriously think he was afraid of working hard.”

An ordinary teenager inspired to excel at what he can do best Bolt remembers “Yes, I have ditched training sometimes because my friends have been going to hang out somewhere. And yes, it’s hard when you are young and sometimes you just do what you want to do. But for that 200 metres I also did what I wanted to do, I just kept on running.”

And what’s Usain Bolt’s favourite food? Chicken nuggets.

Finally see here for a BBC Learning English video activity about Usain Bolt and the London Olympics, with a downloadable worksheet.

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About The Henry Brothers

We are English teachers involved in ELT publishing in Turkey, and also touring the country giving workshops and presentations to English teachers, mainly on the use of poetry, storytelling and other lively activities in the classroom. We can be contacted by e-mail to istanbuljohnm@hotmail.co.uk.
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