OK. I’m going to make a promise at the start of this column. I’m going to refrain from using any “lightning” puns. It isn’t going to be easy, but nothing worth writing ever is.
Here we go:
The thing about Usain Bolt isn’t his speed. If you just looked at his times in London, you wouldn’t think this was the best sprinter the world has ever seen.
Don’t get me wrong. His times are fast. They’re blistering. But, at least over this past week, they always seem to fall just short of world records … just short of the fastest ever (world records which he already holds).
It’s almost as if he knows that beating his own records – while amazing – would be an end point. If Bolt ran through the line in the 200 meters, he may have a world record, but he’d also be showing the world everything; revealing all of his cards.
And if there’s one thing every showman knows, it’s that you always leave the crowd wanting more.
Bolt has done that now in two straight Olympic games. Winning the 100m in Beijing made headlines. Turning sideways and celebrating at the 80-meter mark made him a star (“Imagine how fast he could have gone if he ran through”).
Winning the 200m Thursday night and finishing off an unheard of double-double (taking the 100m and 200m in two straight Games) made history, but putting his finger to his mouth to “shush” the critics with 20 meters left made him a legend (“Imagine how fast he could have gone if he ran through”).
Could Bolt have broken his Olympic record or even his world record? Who knows?
One thing we do know: We will be asking ourselves that very question for the next four years.
Just like we did after Beijing.
“How fast can Usain Bolt really run?”
(Note: If you’re saying to yourself, “what about ’09?,” we can talk offline about the world championships. If you’re saying to yourself “what happened in ‘09?,” don’t worry about it. Read on.)
Is Usain Bolt the fastest man we’ve ever seen? By how much? We need to be able to measure these things. It’s in our DNA. That’s why we’re so obsessed with records. Sure, he looked fast … but how much faster can he go?
We have to quantify Bolt’s speed. We need to know.
Usain teases us with that every run. He lets us get tantalizingly close to that final reveal, that final number, only to pull back at the last moment, only to lift his finger to his mouth and deny us any certainty.
It’s that tease … that dance … that sense of drama that will ensure his place in Olympic lore.
Usain Bolt is really fast. He’s the fastest man this planet has ever seen.
That’s not why we will all be talking about him 40 years from now.
As fast as Bolt has run, none of us can ever be sure if we’ve ever seen him at his fastest. Bolt’s made sure of that. And because of that unknown, because he’ll leave the Olympic stage with us all wanting more, the world will never want to stop talking about him.
Become a “living legend.” That was Bolt’s goal coming into London. Thursday night he did just that (no matter what Jacques Rogge says). Sure, Bolt won the 200m going away. Sure, he pulled off a double-double feat many insisted was impossible.
But he also accomplished all of that and still left us wondering:
Think he can go faster?
And that is exactly how living legends are born.