Kim Collins' Day Off
– 18 years ago, Kim Collins made the 100m semi-finals of the Atlanta 1996 Olympics.
– 11 years ago, with world gold in Paris, he became the first person from Saint Kitts and Nevis to win a global title in any sport.
– Five years ago, he retired.
– Three years ago, he won his sixth and seventh world sprint medals at the Daegu 2011 World Championships.
– This year, aged 38, he ran a personal best 9.96 through the centre of London.
Last week, he turned up at SPIKES HQ for a poke around. He was unimpressed.
“You work hard,” Collins asserts, surveying the office and shaking his head. He looks out of the window and gestures into the car park “I’d rather be out there, sweeping the yard.”
He’s only been here five minutes, and he’s written off journalism as a future career. There’s too much sitting down.
“I’ve never sat still for this long,” he says with a straight face, adding another sugar to his black coffee.
He’s shaking his head again when SPIKES’ art director strikes up a conversation about Warren Weir, the young Jamaican sprinter.
“We don’t like to hear about the competition,” says Collins. “We are lions. We are cheetahs. We are gorillas.”
Just because he’s affable and charming, it’s easy to forget that sprinters must have a predatory instinct. And you can’t hunt at the top of world sprinting for two decades without that hunger.
As we walk through the office to find an interview room, Collins, still wearing his sunglasses, is shaking hands with people and making friends.
He only came in for a coffee, but now we’ve got him in our lair. And he’s not getting away until we’ve asked him some burning questions…
He only came in for a coffee, but we got him working
You first broke in to the world’s elite in 2000, and you’re still there. Kim Collins, what is your secret?
“I try to preserve my body. I think injuries are preventable. Sometimes I’ll race and I feel something, I just have to chill.”
“The problem is, when it comes to training, it’s what we call volume and intensity. It means: the distance you run, how fast you run it, and how many times.
“Both volume and intensity cannot be the same, but for some athletes it is – and it’s too high.
“One guy told me he was running 20 x 100 metres all out in a training session. I would never do more than 3 x 100 metres at high intensity.
“Very rarely, you go all out in training, and I think that’s the mistake most people make. They come to training every day and want to break a personal record or world record.
“You come to train Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – and then you compete on Saturday. And you wonder why you’re running slower in competition than in training. It’s a vicious cycle.”
You’ve got to pay the bills, hey?
“Most of the time there’s no money involved. I don’t know if it’s the girls in the stands or what, but the testosterone in us makes us do some really silly things, as men. But if you could just sit back and analyse: what is it we’re trying to achieve?
“I think the funny thing is, everyone wants to run on the ten [seconds]. But they’re not thinking ‘OK, what do I need to do to get there?’ They come to the track and think ‘I want to run 9.5 today like Usain Bolt’ OK, OK, OK. It’s ridiculous.
“Everyone thinks, in order to beat him you have to run 9.5. No, you just have to be there when he runs slower than you. He might come and run 10 flat, and you could win in 9.99.”
Collins is ranked 8th in the 100m jungle this year, six places higher than Bolt
You mentioned that a lot of sprinters overdo it in training. How do you do it?
“I start out slow, probably running 17-18 seconds for the 100m. You get your body accustomed to that. It’s low intensity, but high in volume. You look for form, you look for technique.
“When your body gets accustomed to that, you take it down a notch, and you go a little bit faster. As you get faster, you do fewer amounts of reps. What that does, it teaches your body to run 100 metres. It teaches you to run. And then you get faster, and faster and faster.
“People want to go on top of the top. We call it ‘top-a-top’. It doesn’t exist. If you’re on top, there’s no top on top of that top.
“You’re trying to ask for something that’s not there, and that is when your body begins to break down.”
When did you learn all this?
“Trial and error. Back in high school, you’d come to training and do 10 x 200 metres all out. For me, that’s not good. I was in pain for days.
“When I won [world 100m gold] in Paris, I was training three days a week, some people got upset and said ‘that’s not good’. But it’s about understanding, and not doing too much.
“Even when you go the gym and see the guys that live there, you cannot lift like them. But still people attempt to do it. When it comes to listening to your body, a lot of the time you feel a little tweak and instead of getting treatment, you want to push further and still wants to compete.”
Do you go the gym much?
For no more than an hour a day, about three to four times a week. A lot of people forget we are human beings. We’re not indestructible. There are days when you’re in bed and not feeling well. You say, ‘how do you feel?’ There are days when we have to say we’re not up to it. We’ll stay in.
“I used to hate the gym. My wife [Paula Collins], being a fitness trainer first, she said ‘no, don’t worry, I got you. This is my thing, I know what I’m doing.’
“I resisted for a while. We started to squat with a broomstick, as light as possible. The idea was to get the proper form and get the proper technique to squat properly.
“You get some guys who come into the gym and start at their max. It’s not gonna work.
“If I don’t warm up properly with the empty bar, I’m going to hurt myself. There are days I didn’t, and I had to stop. Most people want to push themselves, but if my body is not up to it, I don’t do it.”
When it comes to training it’s about understanding your body
How has track sprinting changed since you joined the circuit in the 1990s?
“There has been a major shift. When I started, it was more brutal. I mean, they were real lions out there. They were lions in human skin. They were lionhearts and it was a totally different concept.
“The trash talking was unbelievable, not magazine mentionable [laughs]. What you find now, everyone has gotten a little bit more soft.
“A lot of people can do a lot better. But the thing is: fear kills them. You must understand that anger overrides fear. Most people come and instead of trying to win, they just want to be there.”
When did you first start to realise you could be a lion?
“You’re sending me into the archives, boy. [laughs] The biggest shock came in 2000 in Australia, when I made the Olympic 100m final. What was shocking was that I’d injured my groin and didn’t really except to run that far.”
What advice would you give to budding sprinters?
“Be yourself. I think one of the big problems with the whole world is that nobody wants to be themselves. There are some guys who have Bolt’s name on their Facebook. There’s only one way to get a guy’s name, and that’s marry him. Understand that you need to be yourself.
“There are a lot of people who said I should quit. And there are some people who regret quitting. I’m supposed to listen to someone, who I’ve never met, tell me to quit the job I love? I must be a fool.”
"Understand that you have to be yourself"
Is it true that you’re frightened of lizards?
“At the age of about eight or nine, I used to like to kill lizards and torture them. We have some lizards [in St Kitts] who live under the ground. We call them ground-lizard, of course. They get long, and are not to be messed with.
“But we used to kill them and torture them and make fun of them. Until one day, me and my friend were chasing a fairly big one. We backed him into a corner but my friend’s mother had called him, so it was just me and the lizard alone.
“I’m telling you, he was like a Rottweiler. You would not believe. He got so mad. I tell you truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. He went up on his little feet, stood up on his tail and he came at me.
“I’m thinking that he’s thinking ‘oh, you’re the one who killed all my cousins and uncle and everybody, and now you want to kill me?’ – like in a Chinese movie. He wasn’t about to die that day, and I learned that when life backs you in a corner, you either die or you fight back. And that’s what that lizard taught me. He was that one lizard that was going to fight back. It was terrifying.”
Are you OK with lizards now?
“One time when I was in Jamaica, my wife had some friends over. This little kid killed a lizard and he brought it in the house on a stick. He had everybody screaming. I pulled out my machete and said ‘if you’re momma wasn’t here…’”
We’ve all been there. Tell us about your failed attempt at retiring.
“It was very interesting. When I wanted to retire [in 2009], my wife and I took the IAAF Coaching course, did the level two, and we learned a lot. We understood a lot.
“I came back in 2011, medalled [twice] in Daegu. London… we all know what happened… [he was banned from competing for his country for staying with his wife]. And it has been going good every year since.
“You have to welcome change. Even though things are trial and error, you have to understand how you work as a person. I’ve trained a lot less over the last few years.”
On his return in 2011, Collins won bronze in the 100m as well as the 4x100m
“This season, we didn’t even have a track to train on. We were using a track where Usain Bolt went to school – Trelawny – close to Montego Bay. But we would have to get up at 4.30am in the morning to make the journey. There were times when we had to use the streets, where the cars drive. So we really didn’t have a proper place to train. And to come out with a PB from all that, I tell my wife, she’s doing an amazing job.
“We have learned a lot more this year. We’re confident that we can come and still do better next year.”
Do you get bothered much at home?
“In Jamaica it’s fine, but home in my country it can be annoying. You have to say hello to everybody, and I’m not even running for office!
“I go to the market every Monday. I walk in [screams] KIM COL-LINS!!! The whole market knows you’ve just stepped in. I just like to live my life. They tried to give me security after I won in Paris, but I ditched them.
“I hate to be introduced as who I am ‘hey this is Kim Collins, he’s so and so…’. No, please don’t do that. Just tell them my name is Joseph or Dave or something. You don’t want to meet somebody and they want to like you because you’re a famous person.
“They have to think I’m funny or handsome or whatever. Also, if they’re not a track fan and they don’t care, it’s like: ‘oh god, this is awkward’.”