Is there anything better than watching someone run really really fast? Running is the most elemental sport. It requires no ball, no net, no beam, no bar, no water, no board, no horse, no team—just the earth and the runner’s feet (or blades).
I’ve enjoyed gymnastics and diving over the past week and a half, but the delay between performance and score always reminds me that these “sports” entail a good deal of subjective judgment. Not running. The moment the race is over, everyone watching knows exactly who won.
Usain Bolt is my kind of champion. No false modesty here—because any modesty would indeed be false. How dumb would he have to be to not perceive his own greatness? How disingenuous would have to be to ignore it? I love it when, waiting for the race to begin, he fist-bumps any and all minor officials he comes across. He knows that he’s giving these mere mortals the chance to touch a god just prior to the moment of apotheosis.
I love that Bolt is from Jamaica, a country that is a world-beater in very few categories. I love that while he took the gold, two country-mates, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir, took the silver and bronze.
When the stakes are the biggest, the spotlight most bright, Usain Bolt is as good as gold.
Good as there’s ever been.
Putting the field far enough behind that he could slow up over his last few strides and put his left index finger to his mouth to tell any critics to shush, Bolt won the 200 meters in 19.32 seconds Thursday night, making him the only man with two Olympic titles in that event.
He added it to the 100 gold he won Sunday, duplicating the 100-200 double he produced at the Beijing Games four years ago. The only difference? In 2008, Bolt broke world records in both.
This time, Bolt led a Jamaican sweep, with his training partner and pal Yohan Blake getting the silver in 19.44, and Warren Weir taking the bronze in 19.84 — nearly a half-second behind the champion.
“The guy is just on another planet right now,” Wallace Spearmon, the American who finished fourth in 19.90, said between sobs of disappointment.
Afterward, Bolt had plenty of energy left, dropping to the track to do five pushups — one for each of his Olympic gold medals so far. Ever the showman, he bent down and kissed the track, then did it again a few minutes later, and also grabbed a camera from someone in the photographers’ well and trained it at the group who were clicking away.
Bolt’s stated goal heading to London was to become a “living legend,” and, well, he’s making a pretty good case for himself.
With his 6-foot-5 build, unusually tall for a sprinter, Bolt makes up for lumbering starts with warp speed stretch runs. He was only the sixth-fastest of eight entrants out of the blocks in the 200, the exact same less-than-ideal reaction as he had in the 100. But with teeth clenched he used those long, long, long strides to propel himself quickly to the front.
It didn’t matter that he let up for the final three steps, taking a look to his left to check on Blake, who also was the silver medalist in the 100.
Still, Bolt’s time was exactly the same as three-time individual Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson’s when the American set the then-record at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics; back then, the thinking was that would stand as the mark for decades.
Then along came Bolt.
His 19.30 in the 200 final at Beijing still stands as the Olympic record — and certainly would have been eclipsed Thursday with a full-fledged sprint through the finish — but Bolt bettered that with a 19.19 at the 2009 world championships, where he also set the current 100 record of 9.58.
In all, the 25-year-old Bolt has won seven of the last eight major individual sprint titles in the 100 and 200 at Olympics and world championships, a four-year streak of unprecedented dominance. The only exception was a race he never got to run: Bolt was disqualified for a false start in the 100 final at last year’s world championships, and Blake won.
There were other setbacks for Bolt, who was troubled by minor leg and back injuries that were blamed for losses to Blake in the 100 and 200 at the Jamaican Olympic trials. That sparked some handwringing back home in Jamaica about how Bolt would do in London.
Seems rather silly at the moment.
He’ll try to make it 6 for 6 over the last two Olympics in the 4×100-meter relay. Qualifying starts Friday; the final is Saturday.
Is he the best of his era? No doubt about it.
Best ever? That’s subjective, of course, and fodder for talk-radio drive time. But it’s awfully tough to argue against Bolt’s bona fides, his titles and his times.