“You have people who are exceptions. You have Einstein. You have Isaac Newton. You have Beethoven. You have Usain Bolt. It’s not explainable how and what they do.”
— Stephen Francis, Olympic track coach
Based on the last few posts on this little dog-and-pony show, it’s fair to say I’ve taken a few folks, ideas and institutions to task. Certainly not my favorite way to go, but sometimes I just can’t stop being bitchy.
Which is better than whiny is the periodic table of jerkdom.
Sadly, I’m not done yet. I have another bee in my bonnet that may only be worth a couple hundred words based on how stupid the whole notion is.
Anyway, what got me all riled up was a poll or debate (or something) which compared Y.E. Yang’s victory over Tiger Woods at the PGA Championship in Minnesota to Usain Bolt’s 100-meter world record at the World Championships of track and field in Berlin.
Yeah, I know…
The question asked which feat was more impressive: Yang rallying to beat Tiger to win the PGA or Usain Bolt running faster than any human in the history of measured time. I cringe just typing the sentence. Seriously, a media conglomerate wasted lean tissue and brain matter on creating a faux discourse over which moment in time had more of an impact.
Never mind the fact that there are many gold tournaments played each year in which Tiger Woods does not win – the mere fact that a relative unknown knocked off the so-proclaimed best golfer in history with some solid play on the back nine last Sunday was too much to fathom. Apparently the thought of Tiger Woods coughing up a late lead like some baseball closers ranks up there with the otherworldly.
Look, Tiger Woods is a pretty darned good golfer. He appears to be athletic, fit and whether they want to admit it or not, the powers have actually altered the machinations of the game in order to trip him up. It’s kind of like how the NBA changed a whole bunch of rules shortly after Wilt Chamberlain showed up.
But, you know, it’s golf… at the British Open last month, 60-year-old Tom Watson was just a four-foot putt away from winning the thing. No, there never has been a man as old as Watson to win a major golf tournament, but just the thought that Watson could hold off the best golfers in the world and come one yipped putt on 18 away from victory tells you all you need to know.
Stewart Cink ended up beating Watson in a four-hole playoff and Watson missed his chance. Some experts weighed in that Watson and other men of his advanced age missed a once-and-only chance to pull off such a stunning upset.
I’m not so sure.
Golf, at its essence, is a skill sport. For every athletic Tiger Woods there is a handful more guys like John Daly or Phil Mickelson. In no other sport do out-of-shape and elderly athletes have a chance to compete – and beat – younger, faster and fitter foes.
It’s kind of what makes golf cool. It’s an anachronism in that anyone on any given day can be the best in the world at putting that damn ball into the hole.
However, for as cool as that is, it does not put the sport on equal footing with anything Usain Bolt does.
Bolt ran the 100 in 9.58 last Sunday. In the history of putting one foot in front of the other, Bolt is the only man ever to break 9.70 in the event. He dramatically ran a 9.69 in Beijing at last summer’s Olympics before ripping off the new record this week.
And just for a point of reference, Bolt’s top speed in the record-breaking run was 30-mph. His average speed was better than 23.35-mph. The next time you’re in your car try to cover 100-meters at roughly 25-mph… then imagine being beaten by a lean and lanky 22-year-old kid from Jamaica.
Take a look:
Nothing against Tiger, but Usain Bolt just might be the greatest athlete we’ll ever see.
Better yet, the 100 isn’t even Bolt’s best event. Watch him run the 200-meters and he just might spontaneously combust. What makes the whole thing even more compelling is Bolt’s life story. First, he was no child prodigy who was handed a golf club in the crib and told to go be a champion. He didn’t get lessons, a private coach, club membership or a spot on the Mike Douglas Show. Bolt ran because it was something to do.
It also was a way to put some food on the table.
Last summer we wrote about how Bolt’s Olympic double in the 100 and 200 was a Neil Armstrong moment. The fastest any human had ever run the 100 meters was 9.69 by Obadale Thompson in 1996, but that record was thrown out because a significant tailwind had pushed the sprinters to the finish line. When Bolt ran his 9.69 in Beijing last August, he was the second slowest runner out of the blocks and then shut it down over the last five strides of the race so he could celebrate.
Bolt had built such a devastating lead over the rest of the Olympic field that he had time to look back to see if anyone was gaining on him. In a race decided by tenths of a second, such a notion is absurd – especially in a race where the best runners in the world are present.
Ato Boldon, a track commentator for NBC and four-time Olympic medalist in the 100 and 200 meters said Bolt could have broken 9.6 if he had run to completion.
It was otherworldly. Last Sunday he did the unthinkable.
“You have people who are exceptions,” said Stephen Francis, the coach of Bolt’s main Jamaican rival, Asafa Powell, the former 100 world-record holder. “You have Einstein. You have Isaac Newton. You have Beethoven. You have Usain Bolt. It’s not explainable how and what they do.”
Bolt ran to completion in the 200 last summer and the result was the same. However, this time Bolt smashed a record that most track aficionados thought would never be broken – or at least not broken in just 12 years. When Michael Johnson ran 19.32 in Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics, it was viewed as a man-on-the-moon moment. No one had come closer than 19.62 before or since Johnson stunned the world.
In calling the action on TV, Boldon screamed about how he could not believe that he just saw the one record he believed was untouchable, torn apart. Watching the race as a commentator for the BBC, Johnson celebrated along with 90,000 in the Olympic Stadium. Not only had Johnson seen his record beaten, but also Bolt had run into a headwind to do it.
At its essence, Bolt’s feat was a transcendent sports moment. It was the “Shot heard ‘round the world.”
“It’s ridiculous,” said sprinter Kim Collins of St. Kitts and Nevis. “How fast can you go before the world record can’t be broke? How fast can the human being go before there’s no more going fast?”
People thought the same thing when Johnson ran 19.32 in the 200 in Atlanta.
“I didn’t think I’d see under 19.30 in my lifetime,” said Renaldo Nehemiah, a former gold medalist in the 100 hurdles for the United States. “[Bolt is] doing something we’ve never seen before.”
Secondly, and maybe more importantly, the cultural significance of Bolt’s show first in Beijing and later in Berlin, can’t be understated. Though NBC downplayed Bolt’s races, showing them some 13 hours after they occurred and then offering just one replay, the rest of the world was tuned in live and celebrating right along with the Jamaicans.
Regardless, thanks to Bolt and the rest of the Jamaican sprinters that piled up the medals on at every international competition, the tiny island country is galvanized. Jamaica is a poor island country of just 2.8 million people with a high crime and poverty rate. As a result, the most popular sports are the ones that don’t require a lot of expensive equipment.
Running, the most egalitarian of sports, is clearly where the Jamaicans are best. In fact, three of the top five best times in the 100- meters have been run by Jamaican-born athletes. Meanwhile, three out of the last five Olympic champions in the 100 have been born in Jamaica.
In Jamaica, a country seen by outsiders only from the resorts, the celebration for the 22-year-old Bolt is just getting warmed up. Every time his Puma spikes touch the track, it’s a touchstone moment and the threat of something otherworldly could occur.
It’s beyond history… it’s alchemy. It’s history, physics, poetry and science all rolled into one.
But yeah, you can see why people get into golf, too.