Rick Morrissey’s greatest Olympian ever: Usain Bolt
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org August 11, 2012 8:10PM
Jamaica's Usain Bolt wins the men's 4X100 relay final at the athletics event of the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 11, 2012 in London. AFP PHOTO / GABRIEL BOUYSGABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/GettyImages
Updated: September 13, 2012 6:24AM
LONDON — Even
creatures with webbed hands and feet like Telander can
appreciate this: More than two million people applied for tickets for the men’s 100-meter dash final. That’s a two followed by six zeroes.
The huge demand had everything to do with Usain Bolt, a wonderfully, ridiculously, improbably named Jamaican sprinter. As it was, 80,000 people of all nationalities, skin colors, religions and ideologies had jammed Olympic Stadium to see this one man do what he does. About two billion others stopped what they were doing, turned on their TVs and waited for nine-plus seconds of green-and-yellow blur.
Everybody can understand locomotion on land. The ground is natural to all of us. The water, not so much and not for everyone. Running, we understand. Speed, we gawk at.
Bolt is the greatest Olympian of all time, a combination of power and showmanship that is unrivaled in the history of the Games. It’s not just that he is the only person to win the 100 and 200 in back-to-back Olympics or that he owns the world record in both events. It’s the way he ran over the London and Beijing Games like a one-man invading army. He’s The Show.
Pardon the double negative, but there is nothing not to like about American swimmer Michael Phelps. He has won an Olympic record 22 medals, 18 of which are gold. The rumors about a lack of training or interest heading in the London Games turned out to be dead wrong. He managed to surprise a lot people by winning two individual golds and four medals overall.
But his impact goes beyond any single Olympics. He has dragged his sport kicking and splashing into relevancy. He has used his arms and legs and dinner-plate-sized hands to dominate swimming like no one has, and in the process made people care.
But he’s not Bolt. Nobody’s Bolt except Bolt.
You couldn’t make this guy up. Did you see him joking with the volunteer lane attendant in the seconds before he stepped into the blocks for the 200? Did you see him in the warm-up area before that, uttering to a camera on a wall, “I’m going to win”? Who else but Bolt would find a camera bolted to a wall? He’s every kid mugging for the camera behind the live-shot reporter.
It’s as if he can’t believe his luck: The world is watching me!
There is so much joy in his running and so much fun in his celebration.
But that speed. Good Lord, that speed.
In the 200, seeing that victory was in hand, Bolt downshifted. How anyone can jog the last five meters on the way to a time of 19.32 seconds is beyond me, but Bolt did it.
Just before he crossed the finish line, he put a finger to his mouth to shush the doubters.
“I was just telling them, you can stop talking now,” he said. “I’m a legend.”
He only added to his legend by anchoring Jamaica to a world-record time in the 4x100-meter relay Saturday. Bolt pulled away from U.S. anchor Ryan Bailey to help Jamaica cross the finish line in 36.84 seconds, two-tenths of a second faster than the world record the team set four years ago in Beijing.
Leave it to International Olympic Committee wet blanket Jacques Rogge to attempt to tamp down the excitement.
“The career of Usain Bolt has to be judged when the career stops,’’ he said. “Let Usain Bolt be free of injury. Let him keep his motivation, which I think will be the case. … Let him participate in three, four games and he can be a legend. Already he’s an icon. … You have to be at the top for 20 years.’’
If you go by that criteria, then Jesse Owens and his four gold medals in the 1936 Olympics aren’t legendary because Owens didn’t participate in any other Olympics. How many sprinters compete at an elite level for 20 years, and, more importantly, when was the last time somebody handed Rogge a cup and told him to pee in it?
Are performance-enhancing drugs a possibility in the Bolt phenomenon? Of course they are. Whenever the topic turns to faster, higher, stronger, the discussion has to encompass the possibility of cheating.
Former 100 and 200 Olympic champion Carl Lewis has been skeptical of Bolt’s times and Jamaica’s drug-testing program, but how much of that is jealousy?
“It’s just interesting,’’ Lewis said before these Olympics. “I watch the results like everyone else and wait … for time to tell.’’
Bolt responded that he had “no respect’’ for Lewis.
It’s too bad that the specter of drugs has to hang over almost every accomplishment at the Olympics, but that’s life as we know it. Until something shows up on Bolt’s drug test that suggests he hasn’t been competing cleanly, we can only do what we did as Bolt lined up for the 100 last week. We can edge closer to the edge of our seats.
We approached this Olympics wanting to see the fastest man on the planet be at his fastest. And I think we were all clear on one thing: We wanted to see him run, not swim. That makes all the difference.