Norman Peart's bolt to stardom

Norman Peart – manager for Usain Bolt.
Getting to his parents’ farm in Schawfield, Trelawny, still requires travelling the length and breadth of a dirt road, while jolting his deep-rooted senses that responsibility and accountability are life skills that cannot be purchased.

Norman Peart, mentor and manager of Usain ‘Lightning’ Bolt, could never have envisioned that the mentorship programme he had started with a lanky, shy and innocent 15-year-old meant a sprint into stardom.

As far as he was concerned, his alma mater, William Knibb High, needed help with its track team, a task he wasn’t up to, but with the insistence of then principal Margaret Lee, he agreed to mentor young Bolt.

“I told her no first, but weeks later she called me back and said, ‘there is a special one here who needs a good mentor’. At the time, Bolt was not running well, and his grades were not up to standard,” Peart reminisced.

He could easily have found other thing to do on his parents’ 200-acre farm, after spending his days auditing tax ledgers as a public servant. But the former 800-metre athlete, whose track and field exploits ended because of injuries, agreed to, at least, meet Bolt’s parents.

“The idea was to hear what these people wanted for their son. And they wanted a scholarship, and wanted to ensure he went to high school and got a good education.”

Ideally, that was enough ambition to qualify Hope Peart’s ‘wash belly’ into committing to dedicating his time to the unknown. His foundation from father, Linden, taught him patience and, like a true country boy, whose educational background spanned Jamaica College and the University of Technology in Kingston – the capital city, “I learnt to appreciate the simple things in life.”

Simply put, Norman Peart’s journey started with him arranging timetables for Bolt. “His grades were low and I needed to get him up to at least 15 per cent,” he noted.

Organising Bolt’s schoolwork, he said, became a full-time job, and not once did he think there was a hidden potential to manage the World Junior Champion. In those days he drove a Suzuki Swift with no air conditioning, and had a constant passenger, whose legs were far too long to stretch in order to have a comfortable ride.

“To this day, Usain teases me about how hot the vehicle was.”

To make a statement, Peart said he would always find the ‘crissest’ (nicest) cars to park his old car between.

But nice cars weren’t even in his microscope – the birth of a star was.

one for the future

At no time did he have the slightest inkling of his protégé’s potential, until two weeks after interacting with him. “He (Bolt) was competing at the Western Relays at Cornwall College in Montego Bay, and I watched him run two relay races, and the way he took the baton and sprinted had me in a trance,” revealed Peart, the sound of pride apparent in his voice.

He confidently declared, “This is one for the future.” But, he continued thinking of a scholarship for the young athlete and, of course, a natural progression of going overseas.

This was the beginning of greater things in Norman Peart’s life, as Bolt started to show fantastic running at the Carifta and Caribbean and Central American Games, taking on the World Juniors full blast.

“I had in my hands an outstanding athlete, who was also preparing for his CXC (Caribbean Examination Council), so I kept working with him and would not leave his house until sometimes 11:00 at nights.”

He said sometimes he would wait at Bolt’s home in the evening and the track star wouldn’t turn up, but because of very strong parenting by Jennifer and Wellesley Bolt he never gave up.

“Usain never ran the house; his parents were always in charge, even after he became a champ.”

Help from all over

Norman Peart knew there was natural talent here and was very careful who he took help from. “I had to weed out those who could affect his life negatively, so I sought assistance from Western Sports’ Carl Chang, and Juliet Cuthbert had the PUMA link, and ensured he had gears for the World Junior Champs.”

He said the Government also gave a small cash donation, in terms of getting the Bolt’s family business off the ground, but his concern was nutrition, so he got help to take care of this.

Managing Bolt without even knowing his title was manager, Norman Peart said he was managing the star athlete and never even considered that his task of mentoring had been transformed to something far beyond what he had anticipated. “I started getting help for him financially and otherwise, and even extended myself to assisting the rest of the William Knibb track team.”

As a result of his efforts, the school’s team has been receiving gears from PUMA since 2003.

Peart said the short road to success couldn’t have been achieved without the likes of his cousin Gerry Chambers of Hilton, who made sure the team had bread and bun when travelling.

Turning point

The turning point in Peart’s and Bolt’s lives came about when he ran 20.25 in the 200 metres and 45.35 in the 400 metres at the national Boy’s Champs in 2003. “That was the world’s third fastest time in the senior level at that time,” he recalls.

It was also time to make a decision on Bolt’s future. “I sat down with his parents and told them the times he ran were not high school times.”

This literally meant that Bolt would have to move from Trelawny to Kingston, and Peart, now an integral part of his life, would have to pack up and transfer residence. Having spent years at his current job, his superiors were willing to transfer him to the metropolis.

“I said to myself, if we are going to make a champion, we are going to need the right facilities.”

It was also time for the star performer to take up the opportunity of signing contracts with prospective sponsors, and help to further develop his career. And an education had to play a pivotal role in the equation.

“He already had two CXC passes, and when we went to live in Kingston I made sure he was tutored.” Soon after, Peart’s charge was equipped with five CXC subjects and a foot through the front door of the University of Technology (UTech).

“My dream for him at that time was for him to walk into UTech, without going through any back doors, and we achieved that.”

He ensured Bolt had access to university education, but he couldn’t keep him there, “After the first term, he said he didn’t like it, so he didn’t go back,” said Peart, adding that Bolt still has interest in school, but he will select the right time.

The time had come for him to embark on the business of track and field, and that is exactly what he did. “I started to teach him about the business and how to handle his money.”

In addition, Bolt’s banker sits with him and explains the operations of the market.

Ups and downs

In 2002 Peart’s athlete came under a lot of fire because he didn’t run at the National Championships. “He just wasn’t ready,” he explained. The following year, Bolt also missed defending his title at the World Junior Championships, and the media tore into him. His situation worsened when he went to the Olympics in 2004 and never made the first round.

“It was horrible; it was a very difficult time for us, because they were at our throats when, in fact, he was injured.”

According to Peart, at the Athens Games, the hopes of the country were on his athlete’s shoulders, and it never materialised. “He ran and he was not ready, so throughout the Olympics we were down.”

He said every time Bolt did badly and the world came down on him, he felt it was unfair, but he never once felt that the star’s career had ended. “I was determined to prove the world wrong, because I knew I had a champion.”

On his return from the Olympics, Peart said he changed Bolt’s coach to Glen Mills.

Mills, he said, told him he needed two years to work with young Bolt, and the sweetness was not achieved until after he placed ‘dead last’ in Helsinki in 2005.

“I sat in my living room watching and felt like my heart dropped out,” he recalls, adding that comments such as “Bolt giddy” hurt so badly, he had to ask a group of people one day if Bolt had placed a dent in the national budget.

It took efforts such as SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) of Bolt to get him where he is today.

2006 – the breakout year

Norman Peart tags 2006 the breakout year, “a fabulous year,” and 2007 the year of the future. But, “2008 is great.”

Not only has Norman Peart achieved what he worked hard at, but he mentored Jennifer and Wellesley Bolt’s son, made him into a star and was blessed with his own son, 20-month-old Daniel. Four years ago he married Shauna, a lovely auditor from Montego Bay.

The three live in Kingston, where Peart is able to monitor his charge. (Gleaner Company Ltd.)