Jamaica’s Usain Bolt signs Puma contract

BoltA season-ending injury hasn’t stopped Usain?Bolt from celebrating.

The world’s fastest man turned 24 over the weekend and then signed a three-year contract extension with German apparel company Puma on Tuesday that is said to be the biggest for a track and field athlete.

And although the world-record holder at 100 and 200 meters may be able to buy just about anything he wants because of his new sponsorship deal, he couldn’t even wrangle himself a proper birthday party back home in Jamaica.

“I didn’t know what to do,” said Bolt, who was in his country on his birthday for the first time in seven years. “So I just chilled. We went out and had a couple of drinks.”

Although contract terms of the deal were not released, Puma chairman and CEO Jochen Zeitz said Bolt would be the “best-paid athlete in track and field history.”

“It’s good, man. I’m happy,” Bolt told The Associated Press by phone. “I’m very happy with the figure.”

Bolt set world records in the 100 and 200 at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and helped Jamaica capture another gold and set another world record in the 4×100 relay. A year later, he again set world records in the 100 and 200 at the world championships in Berlin.

Bolt said this month he is cutting short his 2010 season short because of his ailing back. Now he is pain free and looking forward to defending his sprint titles at the 2011 worlds and the 2012 London Olympics.

“I’m trying to make myself a legend,” he said. “People are really looking forward to me breaking records. I’m going to go run hard to win, that’s my aim. And every time I go out there and run hard to win, I get records.”

At the Bird’s Nest in Beijing, the lanky Jamaican’s effusive personality endeared him to fans, but not to IOC president Jacque Rogge.

In the 100, Bolt surged away from the field and slowed over the last few meters, taking time to slap his chest before crossing the line in 9.69 seconds. A few days later, Bolt ran 19.30 in the 200 and then made little effort to congratulate his opponents before taking a victory lap and shouting “I am No. 1!”

“I have no problem with him doing a show,” Rogge said during the Beijing Games. “I think he should show more respect for his competitors and shake hands, give a tap on the shoulder to the other ones immediately after the finish and not make gestures like the one he made in the 100 meters.”

At the worlds, Bolt’s showboating was muted, but his star was rising. He lowered his world record in the 100 to 9.58 and in the 200 to 19.19.

“He’s not just an athlete that promotes performance products but he’s also an athlete that transcends well beyond his sport into lifestyle, and that’s where we see the opportunity,” Zeitz said.

Bolt’s announcement on his shortened season came days after he lost a 100-meter race in Stockholm to Tyson Gay. It was his first loss in an individual race in two years, also in the Swedish capital.

“Stockholm is not my favorite place,” said Bolt, adding it was good for the sport for him to lose once in a while. “Tyson was in good shape. He really wanted to beat me.”

The early end to Bolt’s season will keep him from the Commonwealth Games in India.

“It wasn’t really part of his training schedule and race schedule anyway,” Zeitz said. “It’s unfortunate that he’s missing a few races, but we all know that 2011 and 2012 are the really important years.”

Zeitz said Puma intends to make Bolt a centerpiece in its Olympic marketing program and use him to help develop footwear and other apparel. Bolt first signed with Puma, which also sponsors the Jamaican Olympic Association and the Jamaican Amateur Athletic Association, when he was 16.

“We’ve been together since forever,” Bolt said. “I like the fashion, so they try to make it fashionable for me. … I’m looking good, but I’m also prepared.”

Source: The Associated Press.