Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Just show up, everything else will follow: Yohan Blake

Jamaican sprint legend and the youngest 100 m world champion on self-motivation and dealing with setbacks

Kathakali Chanda
Published: Mar 25, 2023 09:05:00 AM IST
Updated: Mar 21, 2023 06:32:26 PM IST

Just show up, everything else will follow: Yohan BlakeYohan Blake Image: David W Cerny / Reuters
“I wanted to be a cricketer even when I was in my mother’s belly,” says Yohan Blake. But, in his early school years, as he would furiously run past the wickets with the ball, he caught the eye of his principal who figured he would be better off running sprints. The rest, as they say, is history. At 21, Blake became the youngest 100-metre world champion and the next year, returned with a gold and a silver from the London Olympics. The man who couldn’t become a fast bowler ended up being the second-fastest human after fellow Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, having run the 100m at 9.69 seconds. In his illustrious career, Blake’s been a two-time Olympic, World and Diamond League champion, a CV that would be the stuff of dreams for any athlete. During his visit to Mumbai as the international event ambassador for the Tata Mumbai Marathon, the 33-year-old sat down with Forbes India for a chat about his early life, what propelled him towards excellence, and how he kept pushing hard every day.

Edited excerpts:

‘Your goal is your biggest motivation’  

I always wanted to be a cricketer. When we were young, my father was always listening to cricket commentary on the radio—we were too poor to own a TV. And inspired by him, I started playing. The first school principal I had in Jamaica saw me bowling, speeding past the wicket, and said: “This guy needs to do some running.” He sent me to St. Jago, another school in the city, where I trained in track and field. But it was the condition at my home that made me take up track and field seriously. My mother would always tell us she didn’t have enough money to cook food for the 10 of us, and that she needed something to sustain the family. I saw running to be a way out of the poverty we were living in and gave it my all. Every time I’ve gone through excruciating training sessions, where I could not push any further, I’ve thought about my goal and motored on. That's why my biggest achievement is not the medals I've won, but when I'm taking care of other people, and the greatest achievement I've had is when I bought my mother a house.   

‘Do it for yourself, not for others’

In 2011, I became the youngest 100-metre world champion at 21; the next year, I won two Olympic medals—a silver and a gold (in relay). But I never ran for other people, I ran for myself. That’s how I managed to overcome the pressure of expectations. I love to compete, to win races. And I’ve always managed to keep distractions at bay and stayed focused. Because, first, I had my parents to keep me humble and grounded—I would get a tight slap from both of them if I ever went out of line. But, most important, I knew this is what I wanted to do for myself. Every time I’ve run, I’ve wanted to win the race for myself. The minute you start thinking about others, you’ll start losing. I always tell myself: I am who I think I am, I am not who people think I am. 

Also read: Don't fear pressure, deal with it: Jhulan Goswami

‘Just show up, one day at a time’

When your goal is to improve every day and do better, you don’t need people to come and pat you on the back every day or keep telling you how good you are. That’s why when you face setbacks, which everyone does, you find enough self-motivation to fight them. Right after my glory years in the World Championship and the Olympics, I faced a spate of injuries. In 2014, when I resumed, I pulled out mid-race at the Glasgow Grand Prix in July and had to be carried out in a wheelchair. But even after that, through my recovery, my motto was to show up one day at a time, so that when I finally returned, I would return the strongest. Every day you show up is a way of proving to doubters that you can and you will.   

‘There is no substitute for hard work’

Along with eight-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt, and multiple medallist Asafa Powell, I belonged to the golden generation of Jamaican sprinters that would get podium finishes in the most marquee of events. But it wasn’t a cakewalk for us, as it would appear from the outside. We won because we trained the hardest every single day. We never slacked when it came to clocking the mileage every day. For example, one day, while I was practising sprints, my blood pressure dropped and my coach had to call a doctor to the ground to revive me. That’s how hard we trained and pushed our bodies. But it was so worth it for the accolades that we received. That there are no shortcuts is a cliché, but nothing could be truer than that.