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]