SYDNEY — Usain Bolt, an eight-time Olympic champion and the world’s fastest man, could soon fulfill his dream of becoming a professional soccer player after reaching a deal with Australia’s smallest team, an agent said Tuesday.
Bolt, 31, will participate in a six-week trial starting next month with the Central Coast Mariners, a club outside Sydney. If all goes well, the Jamaican track star is expected to start a season-long deal with the Mariners in October.
Australia’s A-League has longed for a superstar talent that could draw into stadiums the large crowds more commonly seen at rugby and Australian rules football matches.
Nevertheless, many Australian fans of the game greeted news of Bolt’s turn to soccer with skepticism, labeling it a “disaster,” “ridiculous” and “just farcical.”
Some called Bolt’s recruitment a publicity stunt by a league struggling for legitimacy after an underwhelming season. But Bolt is serious about his ambition.
“For me, it’s a big deal,” he told the Herald Sun in April. “Everyone feels like I’m just kidding around, just joking, but I’m serious.”
Bolt grew up playing soccer before taking his talents to the track. He holds the world records for the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints and the 4×100-metre relay.
Since retiring from track last year, he has tried out with several European soccer clubs, including Borussia Dortmund in Germany and Stromsgodset in Norway. After the trial in Dortmund, the club’s head coach said the sprinter had more work to do.
But soccer executives in Australia believed the A-League, a young organization that has struggled with flagging attendance and financial problems, was the perfect place for Bolt to launch his new career.
Shaun Mielekamp, chief executive of the Central Coast Mariners, fended off accusations that the deal was a gimmick, saying his club wanted to give Bolt every opportunity to prove he was ready for a professional soccer contract.
Located in Gosford, the Mariners finished at the bottom of the league last season. The team is undergoing a major overhaul, appointing a new coach and recruiting more than a dozen new players.