Ferocity Touches a Vein
Today's guest lecture comes from Brian Lauvray, whom Chicagoans may know from his post at Gapers Block's Tailgate sports section...Brian brings to us a piece on one of our favorite subjects, Usain Bolt, who the Recluse nicely pitted against Amare and Michael Phelps in a piece from last summer. This summer, we join Bolt, and Lauvray (metaphysically), in Switzerland...
This week and across the pond in Europe the titanic freak-of-physics, Usain Bolt redefined swag and athleticism with one deft 19.53 200 m "jog." Seriously, forget "Impossible is Nothing," Bolt is going door-to-door asking for donations in difficulty. To wit, in Lausanne here's what went down: (note: vid is in Italian)
Fierce head wind, check; driving rain storm, check; pre-race: Bolt? Flipping his fingers like under-sized windshield wipers while flexin' and apin' for the umbrella-ed crowd; race: Bolt singularly putting the competition in a headlock and putting world-records and history --HIS world-records, mind you-- on notice, that he's coming. If LeBron, Kobe and on certain nights McGrady or pre-injury Gilbert redefine "virtuoso" and "appallingly efficient and single-handed dominance in a team realm," Bolt's performance at Lausanne emerges as a hyperbolic defying, amalgamate of Arenas' kooky candidness/antics and Kobe's iron-will to crush the spines of those who stand before him, all within a matter of minutes (pre-race/post-race: swag and show) and seconds (race: execution in the face of all-comers and Mother Nature's ornery mixtape of pelting rain and cursed wind).
Track and Field is a difficult comparison to our beloved Association --one is a battle of man vs man vs man vs man; and the other team vs team, only in the relays do you have "teams;" and even in the NBA where, on any given night, an individual can carry a team to victory: he still carried a TEAM. Track is strictly man vs man, as in the simplistic breakdown of boxing: "One man punches another man harder and more frequently," track is (again K.I.S.S.ing it here, folks): "I ran waaaaay faster than you." The actual competitions and nature of the distances --over 200 M pro racers are too close in skill for acts of brazen celebratory excess-- in T n F leave very little room for style or swag as opposed to the NBA where in-game style is self-evident. But stylistically what is galling about Bolt is that not only does he carry himself with unlimited confidence and showmanship pre and post-race, during the races he still carries that "swag" along with his invisible jetpack and the perfect form that allows his 6'5" frame to effortlessly eclipse others who should, by all previous track measures and conventions, be eclipsing HIM!
Watch the replay of the race closely and witness the utmost calm that his body maintains from start to finish; as other racers begin gnashing their teeth, tensing their bodies on each stride, and grimacing from the lactic acid coursing through their veins --no doubt begging for this very public humiliation to end; Bolt is beginning to grin, his countenance at the very worst pains of the sprint, slightly more expressive than "Uh-oh, did I remember to pay the cable bill this month?" and not near the Munch-eaen "Baby, Come Back! She didn't mean nothing!" expression of his "competitors." Where before in track the signposts of style and swagger were superficial commodities: Carl Lewis' black wraparound shades at the '84 Los Angeles games, Michael Johnson's gold Nike spikes in '96 Atlanta and '00 in Sydney; Bolt, has delivered with himself an article-free swag that is as much breezy, Jamaican, palm-lined, beach as it muscle-bound giraffe with the heart of a tiger that broke free from Dr. Moerau's island. In Beijing last summer with an untied shoe, dude, slowed in the final 35 meters of the 100 and still won gold. Again, people pre-Bolt did not win races by having untied shoelaces and definitely not by slowing down with a third of the race left to run...
I have a fair amount of intimacy in "the racing sports" (2000 US National Team Development Camp, Holler!) and an adage that a former mentor of mine once said rings hollow with Bolt. To paraphrase my old coach: "There comes a time in every race, where every single competitor has a neon-sign above their heads saying 'Kick my ass' and that's when you crush them." Yet, with Bolt, the neon-sign is swinging above the competition's collective heads before the race has even begun. The men lined up next to him are less his rivals and more dead men walking.