A note on Usain Bolt

I obviously haven’t had much to comment on the Olympics, though I have been trying to keep up. There’ve been lots of great stories — the little singing girl swap, Michael Phelps, Canada’s late burst of medal-winning, the Cuban guy kicking the referee in the face, and so on — but the one that’s really bothering me is the furor around Usain Bolt.

For those who don’t know, Bolt won the 100m dash, generally regarded as the showcase athletic event at the Olympics, without breaking a sweat. He actually cruised the last 20m or so (since no one was around him) and even pulled up a bit when he started celebrating his win. This caused a wave of indignation from…well, old people. They were angry that he didn’t “run through” the finish line, that he pulled up and started to celebrate (beating his chest, etc.), and that his celebration was a little too exuberant.

I find this patently absurd. Usain Bolt is 21 years old. He had just broken the record in the world’s premier race and become, pretty much officially, the fastest human on the planet. He’s from a country that’s fairly well known for exuberant celebrations. He’d just capped off four years of grueling work by winning in front of tens of thousands of screaming fans. With all this screaming through his mind, in the final 1.2 seconds of that 9.69 second run, you expect him to become austere? Maybe show some emotion by pumping a fist? Ridiculous.

One of my enduring mental images of the Olympics is Donovan Bailey, having just won gold in the 100m in Atlanta, decelerating after the finish line with his arms spread wide, eyes bulging, screaming triumphantly. Was that, too, classless in the eyes of the likes of Bob Costas, one of Bolt’s biggest detractors? Many have taken Costas to task for this, but I think Heather Havrilesky from Salon might have done it best:

He became the fastest man on earth by a long shot, breaking his own record, while every other contender huffed and puffed along several feet behind him. How would anyone dare to claim that he owed it to the fans to run even faster, or that he disrespected them by celebrating a little early? What in the world is Costas, space alien from Planet Honky, talking about? Why should Bolt care about class, of all provincial, bourgeois values? What the hell is class, anyway, but some arbitrary code that soulless, high-capitalist professional robots live by? You know what I like to see in the world’s greatest athletes? Exuberance, and joy, and tears. I’d like to see them rip their clothes off and run around the Bird’s Nest naked.

Side note: the words “Planet Honky” made me laugh out loud.

As much as NBC would like to proclaim Michael Phelps’ 8 gold medals the story of these Olympics, I don’t know how it can’t be Usain Bolt. There are imbalances between the number of events available to swimmers compared to other disciplines, so I think it has to come down to who utterly dominated on the biggest stage, and who became a star in the process. In my mind Usain Bolt owned his competitors, the fans and these Beijing games.

[tags]usain bolt, bob costas, heather havrilesky, beijing olympics[/tags]

0 responses to “A note on Usain Bolt

  1. Bob Costas tearing into somebody doesn’t make me pay much attention because he has never had a single original or relevant thing to say about sports. There’s a reason NBC gives him all the sappy human interest stories.

    But the IOC president taking a strip off Bolt is entirely another thing, and this is my favorite retort that I’ve read.

    Champions never get tired of winning, whether it’s a pickup basketball game, or the ultimate sporting event. Show me a critic of Bolt’s celebration and I show you somebody who has never had the desire to be the best, and never put in the work it takes to win.

    I don’t care that Bob Costas can’t understand that, but it’s sad and ironic that the IOC president doesn’t.

  2. The other point I wanted to make–is there really that much difference between Bolt’s celebration and Phelps and co after their 4×100 victory? I suspect the only real difference is the flag on their uniform. If that was Tyson Gay winning the 100m, this wouldn’t be a story.

  3. Could not agree more. If they wish to cancel grandstanding, its a little late. From a pure sports perspective its a little frustrating that he could have run a 9.6 or better, but thats nothing unique to Bolt .. thats sports. He is not the first athlete to hold up, and in so doing leave something in the bag for later events.

    In any event he and the Jamaicans owned the Games this time around in terms of domination of one discipline. Any criticism sounds stupid and political.

  4. If an Olympic team was ‘way out in front of another team during a match, with a wide margin separating their score from their competitors, and continued to play just as hard through the rest of the match when it was obviously in the bag, they’d be considered unsportsmanlike. Bolt won, he’s not obliged to do anything else. More power to him.

    Interestingly, I liked reading about why he’s won: he’s very tall. In the past, guys this height have never been able to co-ordinate their long legs quickly enough to be 100m sprinters. Bolt seems to be the first one at this height (6’4″) to be able to do this, but since he can do so with his longer legs, he’s pretty unbeatable.

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