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Old Sunday, August 28, 2016
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Default A phenomenon called Usain Bolt

A phenomenon called Usain Bolt

With the Olympics picking up pace, it is but in the fitness of things to forget everything else and get ready for a final salute to Usain Bolt, the man who has captured the fancy and fantasy of anyone interested in competitive sports regardless of age, gender, nationality or any such boundaries. He has transcended them all with his performances at the last two Olympics and World Championships … performances that, to say the very least, were electric. Adding to his aura in equal measure has been the showmanship.

Who doesn’t remember the Lightning Bolt pose that has come to characterise his post-event celebrations? If you don’t, you sure have better things to do in life than to read these lines any further.

Beijing 2008 itself was great enough with three gold medals and three world records — 100 metres (9.69 seconds), 200 metres (19.30 seconds) and the 4x100 relay (37.10 seconds) — but what set him apart from the field was the fact that the very next year at the World Championships in Berlin, he broke his own two individual records by clocking 9.58 seconds and 19.19 seconds. The third record he improved at the 2011 World Championships in the South Korean city of Daegu with a team time of 37.04 seconds.

The showman in him may well defy the laws of ageing as the maestro gets ready to lighten up the Rio Olympics
Next came the 2012 Olympics in London and he retained all the three medals he had won at Beijing. He repeated it once again at the 2013 World Championships at Moscow and then yet again at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. In effect, he has struck gold in every single event he has contested in the last six major global competitions spread over eight years. The only blip has been the 100 metre event at Daegu where he was disqualified for a false start. He later called it the worst performance of his professional career, explaining that he “heard a voice in my head whisper ‘Go!’ and I moved too fast.”

Coming to the 2016 Olympics with such a prodigious record only makes him the favourite by some distance. But at 30 years of age, he is not getting any younger and had to skip national trials in his native Jamaica on medical grounds. Having said that, there is every possibility that what he might miss out on in terms of age will be more than made up by the pressure of the situation. The showman in him loves the glare of the media spotlight a bit too much to let an opportunity pass easily.

In his autobiography, Usain Bolt: Faster Than Lightning — My Story (HarperSport; 2013; co-author: Matt Allan), he made it clear in an unambiguous tone, saying: “I live for the big moment … Give me a big stage and I come alive.” Well, it doesn’t get bigger than the Olympics for sure.

Crowd expectation has been unbelievably high. As he notes in his autobiography, people feel underwhelmed even when he wins a gold medal for they come to see a new world record every time he runs. It would kill any sportsperson, but Bolt thrives on it.

His showmanship, ironically, deprived him of at least two chances of improving his own time. It happened in Beijing 2008 when he slowed down at the finish just because he had left the field so far behind that he thought it was time to underline the difference with some chest-thumping and dropping of hands by the side before the finishing line rather than go for a better time with the customary forward tilt.

And it happened again in London 2012 where he looked back at his closest rival and compatriot Yohan Blake, put a finger to his lips and gesturing him to shut up saying “Ssshhhhhh!” Recalling the episode, Bolt goes back to the pre-Olympic Jamaican trial where he had struggled with a footstep and conceded the first spot to Blake. He couldn’t believe his eyes, he says, when he saw the video recording of the race and noticed that after the victory, Blake had gone to the crowds with a finger on his lips and “Ssshhhhh!” “It seemed to me like he was telling the rest of the field to keep quiet — me included.”

It was a disrespect Bolt brought to the Olympics arena as he prepared for the 200 metre final. “With 70 metres to go, I knew I had won another gold … As I approached the final 10 metres, I put the brakes on and slowed to a jog because I wanted to leave my mark. The race was won for sure, so I glanced over at Blake. He was right behind me. I caught his eye and slowly put a finger to my lips. Ssshhhhhh!” In doing so, he missed his own world record by around one-tenth of a second.

With American sprinters — Justin Gatlin, especially — making much of Bolt’s absence from the Jamaican trials and calling it a “medical pass” to the Olympics, they are surely doing Bolt a great service. The showman in him would love to make Gatlin and company eat a pretty humble pie this week.

As he came to the media centre after his third gold at London, he famously told the journalists that he was now a legend. “I am a living legend. Bask in my glory.” Talking about the episode in the autobiography, he simply concedes that it might have sounded cocky, but that it was true. “Everyone in the room laughed. Nobody bothered to challenge me. Well, how could they? It was true.”

The more humble among us may well take an issue with such a brazen claim, but we all would do well to remember what Mohammad Ali, ‘The Greatest’, said on the issue. There is nothing wrong with boasting, he said, if one could back his words with due actions. Bolt has done much more than that. Let’s get ready for one last look on the Olympics stage before the genius hangs up his sprinting spikes.

Source: A phenomenon called Usain Bolt
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, August 14th, 2016
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Old Tuesday, October 11, 2016
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Perfection and Excellence!
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I still watch the 100 meter race in which he created a world record with the same enthusiasm when I saw it for the first time. That video has been my source of inspiration and no matter how many times I watch it, the “fire” with which he ran those 100 meters, I can never forget that and it charges and motivates me to work harder and hardest and also makes me wonder what NOT you can achieve with hard work and the level of commitment.
Hats off to Usain Bolt!
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Old Friday, August 10, 2018
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What a marvel of a man! Fascinating read.
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