Keeping up with the world’s fastest lifestyles

Wild Geese: Ricky Simms, director of Pace Sports Management, Monaco

Ricky Simms, director of PACE Sports Management, Monaco, and agent to track and field stars, including Usain Bolt

Ricky Simms, director of PACE Sports Management, Monaco, and agent to track and field stars, including Usain Bolt

 

When the fastest man on the planet, Usain Bolt, decides he wants to buy a new car, take a holiday or even just have a night on the tiles, there’s one person he calls to make it happen: Donegal-born Ricky Simms.

Simms, a former middle-distance athlete and coach, runs the Monaco-headquartered Pace Sports Management and has a client list like a who’s who of superstar athletes. In addition to the legendary Bolt, the agency’s 50 clients include double Olympic champion Mo Farah and triple world champion Vivian Cheruiyot.

“We used to have 100 clients, but as the likes of Usain and Mo Farah started to get bigger, we had more work to do,” Simms says. “We really moved our focus to make sure the big clients are getting the best possible service, so we reduced our [client] numbers. We’re in the fortunate position that we can be very, very selective.”

While the relationship with some clients is purely business, others on Pace’s books are like family, and Bolt definitely falls into that category. Simms or one of his team speaks with the sprinter every day, and the Milford man says he has spent so much time with the Jamaican that he knows what he thinks about everything.

Not only does Pace manage Bolt’s professional life, but it also provides a sort of high-end concierge service to make sure every aspect of his personal life is running smoothly too. So, for example, if the runner is in the mood for partying, it arranges everything, hires security and accompanies him on the night.

“When he does go out, it’s difficult,” Simms says. “Hundreds of people want photos. He can’t just sit and chill. There are very few places he can go and just be a normal person.”

Essentially the agency takes care of everything off the field so that Bolt can focus on one thing: performing on the track.

Simms first spotted Bolt in 2002 when the Jamaican sprinter was a tall 15-year-old beating off 18- and 19-year-olds to win the world junior championships. Pace found out Bolt was looking for an agent and got an introduction.

“He joined us straight away,” Simms says. The freakishly talented 6ft 5in runner has proved a supremely marketable signing: not only is he a champion, but he is also a natural showman, carrying off his performances and victories with a unique charisma.

“The way Usain does it has changed the game. He’s full of energy. Whether sitting at home or competing in front of millions, he acts the same way. He doesn’t seem to get fazed by people watching him,” Simms says. “When you break it all down, he’s a really nice guy. A lot of people, when they get famous, turn into divas. He has stayed real.”

Not only has he stayed real, but he has also stayed with Simms. In an industry where it’s not unusual for people to change management, this is an impressive show of loyalty.

Simms says that, ultimately, it’s the reliability of Pace’s service that has kept Bolt on the books. “He knows that when he asks for something to be done, it will get done immediately.”

Providing such a micro-managed level of service, not only to Bolt but to the other megawatt champions in Pace’s stable, means that Simms’s job is “really a lifestyle”. His clients are in different time zones, so he’s pretty much always on call. “Someone gets an injury, misses a flight . . . someone has got to pick up the pieces.”

Fortunately, his wife, the former athlete Marion Steininger, is his business partner. “We’re often able to work on the same projects or travel together to the same events, which helps.”

They’re based in Monaco, with a service office in London and infrastructure in Jamaica and the US. They also run a training camp in Kenya, discovering and recruiting talented young athletes. “It’s almost like a dream ticket to join one of these camps. It’s like signing for . . . Barcelona. They come from a lot of poverty.”

Simms’s own dream ticket came when he got a job with the Kim McDonald International Management agency in London in 2000.

McDonald was one of the world’s top agents, known in Ireland for managing the career of Sonia O’Sullivan. Simms was introduced to him through O’Sullivan and the renowned Limerick physio Gerard Hartmann.

“I was very fortunate to learn the business from [Kim] in the two years I worked for him,” Simms says.

He took over the business in 2002, after McDonald died, changing the name to Pace Sports Management.

Few opportunities

“Start at a local level, then county, then regional,” he says. “I came through Irish athletics before I moved abroad, so I had lots of experience.

“A lot of that was the unpaid voluntary type. But you have to realise it’s a business, so you need management skills, business, legal, accounting, all those things as well . . . It’s a proper career. You can’t bluff it.”

The big question is: will Bolt visit Ireland? After the London 2012 Olympics, it looked like a trip was on the cards but the sports star’s schedule proved so hectic that it hasn’t yet come to pass. But Simms confirms that they will make it to Donegal together, though it may take a few years yet.

“Definitely before he retires,” he says. “He wants to go and see where I come from.”

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