The fastest man in the world signed the largest track and field contract on Tuesday, with Usain Bolt extending his sponsorship with German apparel company Puma through 2013.
The world-record holder at both the 100 and 200 meters will be tied to the company through the 2012 London Olympics, when he is expected to attempt to retain his gold medals in both sprint events.
Although the terms of the contract were not released, Puma chairman and CEO Jochen Zeitz said Bolt would be “the best paid athlete in track and field history.”
“He's an iconic global sports star and as such he's now remunerated,” Zeitz told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
Bolt became a worldwide superstar at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning both the 100 and 200 in world-record times, and helping Jamaica win 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.
“We've been partners in the truest sense of the word since day one, and so it's an easy decision to re-sign with them,” Bolt, who turned 24 on Saturday, said in a press release. “Puma gets me; we fit together. They take the business of running seriously, but we also know how to have fun, to be spontaneous. We both bring a lot of personality to the sport.”
It was that personality that really endeared the lanky Jamaican to the masses at the Bird's Nest in Beijing, and drew criticism from International Olympic Committee president Jacque Rogge.</p>
In the 100, Bolt surged away from the field and slowed over the last few meters, even taking time to slap his chest before crossing the finish 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 off on 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 world championships, 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.
Earlier this month, Bolt said that he would cut his 2010 season short because of tightness in his lower back. The announcement came only days after he lost a 100-meter race in Stockholm — his first loss in an individual race in two years.
The early end to this season will keep Bolt from running at the Commonwealth Games in India, but he is expected to be back for the 2011 world championships and the following year's Olympics.
“We would have loved to see him perform in the Commonwealth Games, but 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 also said that Puma intends to make Bolt the central figure 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 only 16 years old.
“Puma's been by my side since the beginning, before anyone knew what I was capable of achieving,” Bolt said. “They saw potential in me and they took a chance, supporting me all the way, especially when things weren't easy for me due to injuries I suffered in my teens.”