Yohan Blake is the second-fastest man over both the 100m and 200m sprint races. He is also a Richard Mille partner and an all-round great guy. It is a rare thing to meet somebody who has achieved so much in such a hugely competitive field, yet appears to be so utterly unaffected by everything that goes with it. I was lucky enough to sit down with Blake to discuss his love of what he does and his relationship with Richard Mille.
One of the most charming, funny and accommodating gentlemen you could possibly wish to spend time with, Blake remains focused on being the very best for as long as possible. I have always been fascinated by the mindset of people who become elite in what they do. I’ve had this conversation with musicians, athletes and business leaders and was fascinated to get Blake’s view.
“To get to the top is very hard and to stay there is even harder,” he said, “and when you fall, you fall faster and land harder the higher you’ve climbed. It has always been really important to me that I have guys that I can talk to who can mentally help me, especially when I’ve been injured during my career. So I spend time talking to guys like LeBron James and Steph Curry. When I find somebody that can get inside my head and fill it with positive thoughts, I will call them every day. You need to fill your mind with energy from good people.
“One of the people who helped me most was Tiger Woods. One point in his life was a total car crash, but he came back mentally and physically. I speak to him a lot and let him get into my head. This is what I believe it takes to become the best – total dedication to a positive mindset.”
It clearly works, as Blake is one of the greatest sprinters of all time, eclipsed only by his record-smashing former Jamaican teammate Usain Bolt – who gave Blake the “Beast” nickname for his running style, as well as his ferocious commitment to training. Blake’s beastly gift for speed became obvious by his mid-teens. “I started pretty late in life. I was 16 and I was running on the road, racing against cars. And I was staying with the cars, although I could accelerate pretty quickly and the cars took a little longer. My father would watch me and he kept on pushing me. I began to take it very seriously and within a couple of years I was running for my country.”
At the age of 18 Blake set the fastest junior time ever in Jamaica for the 100m and from then he went from strength to strength. And it’s pretty clear that he still loves it now.
Blake has always loved watches, too. “I didn’t have a lot of money growing up. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth. In fact, I used to love buying cheap fashion watches – that was my jewelry when I was younger. I always wanted fancy watches but I couldn’t afford to buy good ones.” He got his chance to start wearing serious timepieces in 2012 when Richard Mille approached and offered him the opportunity to wear one of his watches. It was the year of the London Olympics and Mille wanted somebody to wear a new prototype at the games.
At this point, Blake knew nothing about Richard Mille or his watches, but he was intrigued. “I was also talking to another watch brand at the time that really wanted me to wear one of their watches for my races. But I had developed a real connection with Richard and he really wanted me to wear his – and so I did. I wore the watch for the 100m race in which I came second, the 200m where I also got silver and the 4 x 100m relay in which we came first. I was wearing that watch for those races and ever since I’ve worn a Richard Mille on my wrist.”
That moment was significant for the brand, as the media attention on both Blake and his Jamaican-flag-colored watch was massive. The prototype was based on a RM 038 Tourbillon, but with changes made specifically for Blake to keep it as featherweight as possible. The model that ultimately became Blake’s own was the RM 59-01 Tourbillon Yohan Blake. However, it was the prototype that made the splash and Richard Mille donated it to the Only Watch sale in 2013, where it achieved a sale price of €350,000.
“That prototype was just presented to me, but my signature model I was fully involved in from the beginning. They call me ‘The Beast’ because of the new way I hold my hands when I run, and we wanted to somehow feature my hand in the watch’s design.” The so-called “Beast Bridges” on Blake’s model are the representation that he wanted, in a watch that was specifically designed to be worn on Blake’s right hand. In fact, not content with the watch as it exists currently, there is an exciting watch announcement coming. “For the past two years, we have been working on something very cool. We will be unveiling the new watch hopefully very soon, so you will have to keep a look out for that in 2020.”
Now that he can afford to treat himself, does Blake enjoy other watch brands apart from Richard Mille? “You kidding? This is a supercar – I don’t need any other watch! This is definitely the only one for me, man.” Then he jumps up, records a video message for my aspiring-goalkeeper son Leo and leads us out of the Sky Box to the seats where we enjoy more athletics and cups of Arabian coffee.