- 5 Aug 08, 02:45 PM
Even in this strange city, this is a particularly strange moment.
In Beijing's equivalent of the Bluewater shopping centre, Usain Bolt, the 100m world record holder, is holding his final pre-Olympic press conference in a Chinese version of a Caribbean beach bar - alongside diminutive Scottish singer-songwriter Paulo Nutini.
On the wall behind them are four enormous Maori-style masks, brightly painted with coloured swirls. In front, either side of a blue neon catwalk, camera crews from around the globe are herded in like high-tech cattle.
"Unt now," announces the event's German host proudly, "please - zer men who shocked zer verld!"
It's hard to say which of the pair on stage looks more uneasy.
Bolt, the blistering new star of world athletics, is staring at the floor suspiciously, his long limbs draped across a red velvet chair and a large gold watch hanging off his left wrist.
Nutini, the poor man's James Morrison, looks deeply confused. His expression says it all: what the hell am I, a chap with one tepidly received album behind me, doing here?
One's heart goes out to the British athletes who just failed to make the GB squad for Beijing. How must it feel knowing that even Paulo Nutini got the Olympic nod ahead of them?
The explanation is simple. In their great wisdom, Bolt's footwear sponsors have decided that the natural partner for the fastest man ever at the launch their new range of Olympic running shoes is a bloke from Paisley who aspires to being David Gray.
Nutini had a song out two years ago called "New Shoes". Bolt will shortly be running in some. See what they did there?
The peculiarity of the situation unsurprisingly seems to unsettle the Jamaican. Asked how happy he is to be running both the 100m and 200m in Beijing, he looks surprised.
"I'm only 80% sure I'll do the 100m," he says. "It's up to my coach. He hasn't told me if I'm doing it yet, so I'm guessing."
"But Usain!" shouts an excited hack. "Your coach told us last weekend that you were definitely doing both!"
"Did he?" says Bolt, startled. "He hasn't told me. I guess I'm doubling up, then."
Paulo, meanwhile, fiddles with his shaggy mop of hair, ignored by the sporting press until a Japanese lady in the crowd throws her hand in the air.
"What his name?" she whispers loudly to a lackey nearby.
"Paulo Nutini," the lackey hisses back.
"Paulo!" beams the woman, smiling toothily at the stage. "What inspire your song 'New Shoes'?"
Nutini coughs. "Yeah. It's about, you know, if it was as easy to solve problems as it is to buy shoes."
There is a heavy silence in the bar. "That's it," says Paulo, quietly.
Emboldened, a Russian journalist at the back of the room waves at Usain. "You want to be a DJ when you quit, yes?" she barks.
"I never said that," says Bolt, looking nonplussed.
"Yes, but I am perhaps reading it somewhere," barks the woman. "So - would you DJ with Paulo?"
Bolt sighs and shifts in his seat. "It could be possible," he says laconically.
"I'm game for anything," chirps up Paulo, brightly.
Usain stares into the distance. "It could be huge for me," he says, deadpan.
To a strobe-storm of camera flashes, Bolt's new spikes are brought to the stage by a beaming flunkey.
To say they are a little flashy is like saying Bolt can run at a decent lick. There's so much gold on display that it's hard to look at them without protective goggles.
The laces are gold. The uppers are gold. The soles are gold. The echoes of Michael Johnson's record-breaking spikes are there for all to see.
After posing for the cameras, Nutini and Bolt stroll off backstage, deep in conversation. It's hard not to wonder what they've found to talk about.
Is Paulo asking for help with his transition off the top bend into the home straight?
Is Usain grilling Paulo about the time he supported KT Tunstall at the Cambridge Corn Exchange?
Sadly, we may never know.
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