Usain Bolt More Impressive Than Michael Phelps?
by Trevor Whenham - 08/27/2008
What is there to possibly say about Usain Bolt that hasn't already been said? The guy is an incredible freak of an athletic specimen, and I have been having a constant debate with myself since the end of the 200m as to whether his accomplishments are more impressive than Michael Phelps'. For the record, I lean towards yes, but not with much conviction given the immensity of the challenge of figuring it out and the enormity of what Phelps did in his own right.
To look at what Bolt did, besides single-handedly save the sport of track and field, you really need to look at his accomplishments in the three logical parts.
Even though Bolt held the world record in the 100m coming into Beijing, the dash was really his coming out party for most of the world. The race was supposed to be a close three-way battle. Bolt was the record holder. Fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell had previously set that record twice and tied it two other times. In the eyes of some, American Tyson Gay was faster than both of them. Needless to say, it didn't turn out that way. Gay had hurt himself in the American trials, and he was just a shell of himself in Beijing. Powell was better, but wasn't quite right. Bolt, on the other hand, was more ready for the races than any man has ever been.
Controversy has erupted over how Bolt dealt with his win. In my mind it's unquestionably the most ridiculous debate ever. There is only one issue in my mind - he set a world record. The fact that he essentially coasted through the last half of the race, or that he starting celebrating with 20m left, or that he made it clear to everyone in the world before the race was over with a single gesture that he was the best anyone has ever seen certainly wasn't bad sportsmanship. He was completely and totally entitled to do that, or whatever else he wanted to do. Stopping before the end of the race didn't take away from the accomplishment. It added to it. If he had run all out he would have set an incredible record, but that would have been the end of it. What he did instead was leave us to imagine what could have been possible, and to think in awe of what we had just seen. Just think again about what you saw - he only ran three quarters of a race with effort, and he still ran the race faster than any person on the planet ever has. That was the most incredible sporting accomplishment I have ever seen, and perhaps that there has ever been. The fact that he can so obviously run much, much faster than he did only gives us something to look forward to.
On to the 200m. If Bolt's 100m was a flashy sports car then the 200m was a Formula One car. Bolt gave us no clue that he was about to rewrite history as he messed around before stepping into the blocks. There was electricity in the air as I watched the race, though, and I was on the other side of the world and it was the middle of the night. Bolt didn't get a great start, but it's impossible for a guy as tall and long as he is to unwind from the starting crouch with grace. Fifty meters into the race, though, you knew that the outcome was inevitable. Bolt exploded and never let up. When the dust settled, he broke what was thought to be perhaps the most unbreakable record in track. It was a staggering, stunning thing to see. It would have been even more stunning if we weren't still a little exhausted from the first record.
By the time the third gold medal and the third world record came around it was old hat. We knew the Jamaicans were going to win the relay because the Americans and the British had both screwed up and hadn't qualified. The story was so predictable it was as if it followed a script. The Jamaicans were clearly the class of the field through the first two legs, but it would have been possible for the other teams in the race to think that maybe they had a chance. But then Bolt got the baton. He exploded, and by the time Powell finished the last lap he was in danger of lapping the field. Incredible. Other-worldly. Again.
Bolt turned 22 minutes after winning his second gold medal. He has years left in his career, and his technique still has room to improve. If he wants to stay focused and committed (and if the unspoken hope of all of us comes through and he isn't doping), then it could be truly scary what he could do before it's all over.