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Usain Bolt ready to race after ‘off’ season, meeting Michael Jordan

Usain Bolt

Courtesy Puma

NEW YORK -- Usain Bolt met Michael Jordan for the first time at the Super Bowl two weeks ago.

I just wanted a picture,” Bolt said. “You hear about Michael Jordan, and you see some of his films and stuff over the years. It was great to meet him, get a word in. I didn’t try to question him too much. It felt weird asking him about the past and stuff like that. So I just talked a little bit about basketball. Not when he used to play, but just random games and stuff.”

Bolt has a bit of basketball experience. He dunked in the 2013 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.

The world’s fastest man spent Tuesday in the city that will host this weekend’s NBA All-Star Game, but the six-time Olympic champion said he won’t take part in the festivities.

No, Bolt planned to fly back to Jamaica on Wednesday morning after promoting Puma’s new line of Ignite shoes in Times Square. There’s work to be done following what he called an “off” season in 2014.

Bolt, 28, ran a total of 400 meters in competition last year, delaying the start of his season due to March foot surgery and ending it early in August, in part to ensure he was injury-free going into 2015.

Now, there are more doubts of Bolt’s dominance than at any time since he broke his first world record in the New York rain in the spring before the 2008 Olympics.

“People were writing that I retired, like I stopped running or something,” Bolt said Tuesday. “I’ve had a couple of bad seasons, but I’ve always come back and shown up.”

Bolt, who owns the 100m world record of 9.58 seconds from 2009, last summer clocked 10.06 on a Brazilian beach and 9.98 indoors in a Polish stadium and ran two relay legs at the Commonwealth Games.

Emerging rival Justin Gatlin had six of the world’s seven fastest times last year, including a 9.77, matching Bolt’s winning 100m mark from the 2013 World Championships.

This is a key year, a World Championships year, and the year leading up to what Bolt said will be his last Olympics in 2016.

Bolt is expected to debut this season in a 400m in Jamaica on Saturday, a not-unusual distance for him to open a campaign.

What are the goals? Triple gold at the World Championships in Beijing in August? Staying healthy? Setting up for the 2016 Olympics?

“It’s all of that really,” Bolt said. “For me, it’s always to go to the championships, to defend my titles, to get more golds and continue to add to my legendary status.”

Bolt said his coach cranked up the training program going into this season because of last year’s struggles.

“I need to put in a lot more work,” Bolt said. “I’m in no doubt I’m in great shape.”

Bolt said he visited the doctor who performed his foot surgery in Germany last March, and the doctor gave him a good-to-go signal.

If the injury taught Bolt anything, it’s to be more cognizant of his body.

“I just take notes of everything that happens,” he said. “If I feel a pain, make sure I check it out. Not like one time [in the past] where I feel a pain and I say all right, maybe it’s just from training. Now I’m really taking note of everything that’s happening around me.”

At the Super Bowl, Bolt joined one of the greatest gatherings of sports talent in history. He didn’t want to pester Jordan too much, saying the Charlotte Hornets owner appeared busy watching his team play on his phone.

But Bolt said he was “fascinated” by quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Robert Griffin III. He sought to ask both about the specifics of their jobs.

How do you stay focused with 300-pound men barreling toward you? What do you do when your primary receivers are blocked off?

“I got different answers,” said Bolt, a Green Bay Packers fan because that’s the first team he saw play on TV growing up in Jamaica. “For me, it’s hard. They’ve got to remember 200 plays.”

Many will anticipate Bolt’s return to the Beijing 2008 Olympic Stadium in August. He hasn’t been back since he broke the 100m and 200m world records seven years ago.

“People say it’s going to be pressure, because I’ve set a bar in the Bird’s Nest, so actually now I have to surpass that bar,” Bolt joked.

A showdown with Gatlin would add to the theater. Asked if he watched Gatlin’s races last year, Bolt chuckled softly. Perhaps it was in regard to Gatlin’s history. The American is five years removed from a four-year doping ban. Bolt has said he’s in favor of lifetime doping bans for those who purposely cheat.

“I try to be a nice person here, not say anything rude,” Bolt said, pausing to continue the thought. “He did well last season. So that’s good.”

Bolt addressed a number of topics, including an instance in Trinidad and Tobago since the last Olympics where a woman asked him for a hug, he obliged, and she started crying. That was a first.

“I call it my Michael Jackson moment,” Bolt said. “She was broken down in tears, shaking. I was like, this is weird. It was cool, though.”

And his famous victory lap at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, last summer.

“A victory lap takes an hour,” Bolt said. “Nobody wants an autograph anymore. Everyone wants a selfie for Instagram.”

And, finally, his planned retirement following the 2017 World Championships in London. What if Bolt lost his last individual race there? Could he retire with his finale being a defeat?

“I don’t think I could,” Bolt said. “On my last race, my last championship, I don’t think I could.”

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