The fastest man in the world stares at a blank piece of paper for a few seconds and, finding no inspiration, turns to his manager.
“Rick, what should I write?” he asks.
Ricky Simms, the director of PACE Sports Management who manages Usain Bolt, gives a look of mock disdain.
Bolt, 24, had been asked to write a greeting to the people of South Korea ahead of the Daegu world championships starting this month. Finding the right words is apparently not covered in Simms’ contract.
It is one of the few details not looked after by Simms, his coaches and his staff, who choose which events Bolt attends to maximize his success on the track and his outside earnings.
Smiling as he surveyed the media scrum surrounding his client on the eve of last Friday’s Stockholm Diamond League meeting, Simms explained how he helped plan Bolt’s season.
“We work together on it in November of each year and present it to him in January or February. He trusts his coaches to make those decisions, he’s an easy guy to work with,” said Simms, who is a qualified coach and a former middle-distance runner.
As soon as Bolt’s participation in Stockholm was announced, local media began speculating wildly about his purse. Simms, though, will give no financial details about the man who was the sensation of the 2008 Beijing Olympics when he won three gold medals in world record times.
“I see a lot of figures quoted, but what he makes at each meeting is confidential,” Simms said. “He’s the biggest athlete ever. What he brings to a meet in terms of media attention? I think in Rome there were 20,000 more fans in the stadium because he was there. It’s hard to put a value on it — maybe he’s worth double what he gets paid.”
Last year, after Bolt shattered his own 100m and 200m records at the Berlin world championships, he pulled out of the Diamond League meeting at Crystal Palace because of British tax laws. Bolt would have had to pay 50 percent of his appearance fee in tax, plus further tax on a portion of his global sponsorship income.
Stockholm tournament director Rajne Soderberg said Bolt would pay only 15 percent of his purse in a so-called “artist tax” for his appearance in Sweden.
Like Simms, Soderberg also declined to discuss what Bolt was to be paid.
“He is the big seller of athletics, there is no one who comes close in terms of the interest he generates,” he said. “We saw a clear difference in ticket sales when we announced that he would be taking part.”
Soderberg does not just measure Bolt’s value in ticket sales.
The annual DN Galan is hugely popular in Sweden and sells out regularly, but, Soderburg said, Bolt’s presence brought an extra dimension for the sponsors.
“The value comes next year and the year after, the meet he is at creates a certain level, and then everyone else feels that they have to be there too,” he said.
On Friday last week, Bolt recorded his first win on Swedish soil at his third attempt, cruising to victory over 200m in 20.03 seconds on a blustery night at the Olympic Stadium. In his two previous appearances, he had lost to compatriot Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay of the US over 100m.
Soderberg said he was aiming to bring Bolt back to Stockholm for a fourth time next year and would be asking for more money from the sponsors.
“Yes, we can do that,” he said. “It will be more attractive to be a part of it. It will be worth more. I can’t say how much more, but he’s worth the money.”