‘Rough times!’ Puma boss says signing Bolt had its ups and downsMonday, April 02, 2012
PUMA chairman Jochen Zeitz believes the decision to continue endorsing flamboyant Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt following his disastrous 2004 Athens Olympics debut was a defining moment in their "relationship".
In Athens, Bolt — then a teenage prodigy — failed to make it past the first-round of the 200m and spent most of the next two seasons battling injuries as he fought to regain the glory days of his junior career.
"I remember after the Athens Olympics some people were saying he's never going to make it… but I was bright enough to sign him and was bright enough not to let him go when he was injured," Zeitz said, who speaking last Friday evening at the Wyndham Kingston Hotel during a moderated questionand- answer session, dubbed ‘A Conversation with Jochen Zeitz’.
Bolt has since gone on to establish himself as one of track and field's iconic figures with jaw-dropping, world record performances at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.
"The best thing we did could have been wrong," Zeitz recalled, "but somebody like Usain doesn't come along every day. He's blessed."
After the Athens disappointment, Bolt reinvented himself under the guidance of new coach Glen Mills and was eyeing a revelation of sorts at the 2005 Helsinki World Championships.
"I really want to make up for what happened in Athens. Hopefully, everything will fall into place," the 18-year-old Bolt was quoted as saying in the build up to Helsinki.
Unfortunately, another year of misfortune was to follow as Bolt placed last in the 200m after suffering an injury in the final.
"The relationship has not been a walk in the park... we've had some rough times," Zeitz said,
But, the best of Usain was still to come and in 2008 the William Knibb High School past student won three gold medals (100m, 200m and 4x100m) in world record times at the Beijing Games, and immediately repaid Puma's faith in him by holding up his custom-made Puma spikes in front of the cameras for the world to see following the 9.69 100m triumph.
"He (Bolt) said to me, 'Did you like what I did?' and I said, 'Yeah'," Zeitz recalled. "He then said, 'I did that for you because you stuck with me'."
Since the Beijing Olympics and the World Championships that followed a year later, Bolt's popularity soared to new heights as he became one of the most talked about sportsmen of all time.
Bolt's world-wide appeal — emanating not only from his talent on the track, but also from his showmanship before and after a race — was also a major shot in the arm for Puma, who reportedly made the Trelawny native the highest paid track and field athlete with a new four-year contract in 2010.
"We have signed some top athletes (over the years), but Usain is very special on that roster," Zeitz noted.
In October 2011, the sportswear conglomerate announced that Bolt's performances at the Daegu World Championships had increased their quarterly sales by 10.2 per cent.
"The running category in particular grew significantly, boosted by Usain Bolt's spectacular performances at the track and field World Championships in Daegu and by the lightweight concept which includes our bestselling Puma Faas range," Puma said in its October 2011 quarterly report.
The event, organised by Whisky Productions and the National Commercial Bank, saw the former Puma chief executive officer responding to issues relating to Jamaica's longstanding relationship with the German sports good manufacturing company, the upcoming London Olympics and a range of business related questions.
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