03 September 2008

Smack Dab in the Middle of the Blue

It's a tad later than I had planned (wait til I post my Wimbledon thoughts, as the US Open is in its closing stages! Next week: my opinion on the Flight of the Navigator premier...), but I feel I have to say something about the second half of Usain Bolt's immaculate Olympics performance this summer. The experience was bitter-sweet; herein I shall tell you why.

Energised by Bolt's 100m performance, I was intensely excited to see what he could achieve in a sprint over twice the distance. While his performances in the rounds leading up to the final were great without being eye-popping (he was even caught in one race), there was always the knowledge that the Jamaican had far more in him than what he had shown; just as in the 100m rounds.

So I set the Sky+ to record the Olympic programming and told all relevant colleagues that if they happened to see any news sites (local government workers, surfing the net? Heaven forfend), not to tell me. The day wore on and excitement built. Then I received an email from what can now only tenuously be referred to as a 'friend', informing me that 'Usain has done it again'. I thanked her for this information, to which she retorted she was expecting me to watch it live on my iPhone*

Full disclosure for my dear reader: with nothing left to lose, I downloaded Flash 9 and got it watched. While I was immensely soured, no amount of spoilerage could fully eclipse the performance Bolt put on in this final. I don't want to get too deep into analysis, as Michael Johnson put it perfectly well, but the facts are Bolt had a great start - which he didn't in the 100, and he tried his hardest for the duration. I freely admit I underestimated his ability in that other post. Like Iain commented, Bolt winning gold was something of a foregone conclusion; the question of breaking the record was really something for which Usain currently lacked the answer.

Johnson theorised his recent focus on getting up to speed on the 100 would negatively affect his speed endurance. I wasn't sure about that, as he seemed to have a surfeit of energy and adrenaline after winning his first gold. My issue with Bolt breaking Johnson's record of 19.32 was the perception that it was a bridge too far. At risk of repeating myself, it is one thing to break ones own record; to improve on your personal best in a sprint by a third of a second is insanity. And that is just what he did.

I overlooked how much Bolt wanted to prove a point in the 200. I should have paid more attention to the pre-Olympic rumours that he was thinking about not entering the 100m competition purely so he could focus on the 200. (How ordinary would the 100 metre competition - and arguably the track and field programme - have been without the initial shock of that 9.69? Without looking: who would have been the current fastest man in the world? Exactly.) I freely admit to not being the biggest swimming fan in the world (childhood trauma), but I find the achievements of Bolt far more impressive than those of Phelps, awesome though the latter clearly were.

I'm still floored by those two performances (after those, the 4x100 really was a foregone conclusion). Michael Johnson - greatest pundit in the world - was admirable in his reaction to the loss of a record he surely thought would remain intact for a lifetime. Then again, as he said: 'It's not like I wake up every morning saying to myself "at least I have the 200m record"...'; when Jonathan Edwards challenged him on his own remarkable athletics record, the American wryly added 'I still have another one anyway'. Interestingly, Johnson has actively encouraged Bolt to go for the 400 metre crown. And why not? He has shown he is the greatest ever at 100m and 200m. He has shown he can sprint for days. He has already taken one of Johnson's records. I suppose the thinking is that if someone is to take that 400m record, Michael would rather it was a genuine phenomenon than some jabroni having a lucky day.

Part of me thinks it's also a case of one-upmanship. Johnson had expressed his boredom at the pre-athletics segment of the Olympic games this year; Bolt gaining the 400m record would be another piece of evidence to cite in the abstract battle between Bolt and Phelps. Frankly, the differences in diet are enough for me. While pants were exploding worldwide at - ooh - just how much Phelps eats for breakfast, we had Usain professing to eat some chicken nuggets, have a nap, then some more nuggets before shattering the 100m record with ease.

Now there is your freak of nature. I think that's all I have to say on this particular topic. Famous last words, I know.


* Side effect of having the iPhone: Able to check gmail at the touch of a button, it is also really impressive if you stick lossless music files on a 16gb model with, say, my new Audio-Technica headphones. However, while it is an immensely fun toy, spiteful non-owners get all sarcastic when it cannot do something. 'No live streaming of broadcast telly on iPlayer? How shit' etc.

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