Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sure the guy can run...but where's his class?

I've got a bad taste in my mouth after watching Usain Bolt of Jamaica shatter his own world record in the 100 meter dash (click on the picture to watch the video). It's not that I'm not amazed at his speed--the guy's got wheels--or that I wish he was American and that the title of World's Fastest Man belonged to someone flying the stars and stripes. Nor is it that I'm jealous because I'll never be able to do what apparently comes so easily to him (unless, of course, I could pull a Ben Johnson). Even in my peak high school racing days, I never dreamed about breaking 11 seconds in the 100m. It never was my race. That's the stage for glory hogs and I like to think I'm fairly unassuming...well, in most things.

No, my problem with the dude is that he didn't finish his race. Sure, he won and in steam engine time, but he could have done better and doesn't even seem to care. When asked about his antics and if he thought he could have run a faster time, he responded: "I wasn't even worrying about the world record. I didn't even know it was a world record until I was in my victory lap. I came here wanting to be Olympic champion, and I did just that." Yet, I don't consider him a champion.

Here's why:

I keep thinking of a Steve Prefontaine mantra: "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." Steve ran with everything he had every time he ran (check out the videos on the page I linked to). To me, that's what makes a champion, no matter if they win or lose.

Bolt, on the other hand, is just a showboat. Yes, he's young and impulsive so I may throw him a little bone. But someday, I believe, me might just regret the careless way he neglected the fullness of his gift (and ultimately mocked those who don't have his natural talent but worked twice as hard to run beside him or to even get a shot at performing for a few seconds on the Olympic stage) by turning off the engine and drifting in for what I see as an essentially empty victory.

(See what Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun has to say about this here and Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic here.)