If the Olympics is the greatest show on Earth, then its greatest showman is Usain Bolt. Sprinting’s irresistible force and its immovable object, and arguably the most famous athlete on a global scale since Muhammad Ali, Bolt delighted the watching world by winning an unprecedented third Olympic 100 metre title in a row.
The phrase, “Here for a good time, not for a long time” is pretty apt when discussing the 100 metres. It is the nexus of the Olympics, the most exciting chapter of the book, rakishly described by The Guardian’s Barney Ronay as “the G-spot of any Games”.
The 100 metres is full of paradoxes, as seldom is a main event in sport so brief. And as the athletes crouched into their blocks, a pervasive spread of anxiety and tension suffused not only over the fans in the Olympic Stadium, but also over those watching on television.
And what happens next is… well, nothing. Not a sound. Not a movement. Sport’s ultimate calm before the storm. You would do well to find a pause more weighty, a silence more cacophonous.
But when the gun goes bang, from the sound comes the fury. A breakneck whirlwind of arms and legs for the next 10 seconds, human beings transformed into superchargers. One imagines if the energy generated by sprinters could be harnessed, climate change would no longer be a problem.
However, it’s not just the muscle fibres that twitch rapidly. So do the synapses in the brain, as the 100 metres is also an intellectual exercise. I say this because all sport is an intellectual exercise. Having the gift of speed matters little if you don’t know how to efficiently deploy it. To quote ESPN’s Zach Lowe, “effort without precision can lead to the same bad results as laziness.”
The athletes need colossal focus to shut out the roars of the crowd and the flashes of the cameras. They have to know exactly when to rise from a half-crouched position into an upright one, and then there’s the task of holding your technique and stride-pattern steady when every instinct in your body is begging you to stop. Consider the pressure put on the muscles and the ligaments; during the race, the ankles, hamstrings, and thighs are like rubber bands, all stretched to their snapping point.
And Usain Bolt being the 100 metre king is the biggest paradox of all, because a man with his biological make-up shouldn’t be able to prosper in this event. His long limbs and unwieldy gait is anathema to rapid movement over such a short distance (Bolt has always considered himself a 200 metre runner). However, having longer legs enables him to complete the distance in a shorter amount of steps than his rivals, and while he often takes longer than his peers to hit maximum speed, once he gets there, his longer strides eat up the track and offset the issues with his technique.
Combine this with an ability to move his limbs faster than a person of his size should be able, and you have the human equivalent of a cruise liner that can move like a speedboat. He’s taken what are ostensible weaknesses and turned them into considerable strengths.
Even though Bolt made an atrocious start last night – even by his recumbent standards – once the race hit the 50 metre mark, he shifted from 2nd gear into 5th, without needing to pay 3rd and 4th a visit.
He’s no longer in the world record form he showed at the 2009 World Championships, but what makes him stand out above all is his championship mentality. Bolt doesn’t get outperformed when the spotlight is at its brightest, and will always be able to produce what his rivals can’t when he most needs to.
“The odyssey continues”, uttered the BBC’s Steve Cram as Bolt crossed the finish line. It’s important to remember that the Jamaican is on a quest, as yet incomplete, in Rio. He’s also after the gold in both the 200 metres and the men’s 4×100 relay; just as he did in Beijing; just as he did in London.
The triple triple. Bolt is aiming to plant his flag in undiscovered territory, and if he achieves it, by this time next week, Usain Bolt will have essentially completed athletics.
 – Otherwise known as “Winning Time”.
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“Two Weeks Notice” is Shane Thomas’s bi-monthly column encompassing “Pop culture to sport, and back again“ Shortlisted for EI Arts, Culture and Entertainment commentator of the year 2015
There’s sport, and then there’s the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It’s an event like no other. Over the next few weeks this series, curated by Shane Thomas, will cover the medals, the nationalism, the competition, the corporatisation, the exploitation, and the sporting brilliance of Rio 2016.