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Bolt: Happiness Trumps Time

When I got on a media shuttle in the early morning hours on Sunday, I ran into a Scandinavian journalist who's staying in our hotel. He asked if I saw Usain Bolt smash the world record in tonight's 100-meter dash. I had, of course; the Olympic channel in our office showed the race about 30 times, and everyone in the building was watching. (But you weren't! Thanks, NBC.)

"What did you think of it then?" the Scandinavian asked me. I realized he was asking not about the race itself but about Bolt's celebration--which started with something like 20 meters to go and continued long after the race ended.

"Like a jockey astride a wonder-horse, he nearly even snuck a quick look over his shoulder in the last five metres," wrote one of the ever-descriptive British papers. "Bolt, having produced the most electric 100 metres performance for 20 years, contented himself with smiting his left breast and then discoing around the stadium."

The idea, I suppose, is that you never know for sure how many chances you'll get to do something better than any human has ever done, and that Bolt could have waited those extra two seconds and made the record as unbeatable as possible when everything was working. Still, I told my Scandinavian friend what I thought: that the whole thing was awesome, a bolt of joy in an Olympics that has often seemed relatively joyless.

We've all--fans and media and athletes alike--dealt with the usual drudgery of metal detectors and security fencing and uniformed people saying that you simply must walk in the exact opposite direction you'd prefer, but this time there have been plenty of other clouds: the literal ones, the political overtones, the empty seats, the constant questions about whether the existing fans are there by choice and are cheering out of joy or from some mandate.

This celebration--the chest pounding, the arms wagging, the pre-finish-line exclamations--seemed so obviously genuine, because Bolt had every reason not to bust out early. But it's not like there's some greater societal good in shaving 0.02 more seconds off a record that will inevitably go lower. Bolt had the race won, which is the point. That made him happy, and he showed it. That's worth a lot more smiles than a few extra hundredths of a seconds.

"I came here to win a championship, not run a time,'' Bolt said. "When I saw I had the race, I was just happy.''

There was a zero percent chance he could lose, but still, it conjured very vague thoughts of snowboarder Lindsay Jacobellis's performance in Turin. Remember her? She crashed while showboating, and lost her gold.

"I was having fun," Jacobellis said at the time. "Snowboarding is fun. I was ahead. I wanted to share my enthusiasm with the crowd. I messed up. Oh well, it happens."

Sure, she had more at stake when she chose joy over speed, but the point isn't that much different. Fun. Happy. Enthusiasm. Good words, when sports are involved.

By Dan Steinberg  |  August 16, 2008; 3:04 PM ET
Categories:  Olympics  
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I think that perhaps Usain Bolt was fortunate not to run at full speed this time. That gives him the opportunity to set more world records and thereby become richer everytime he does so. The foolish thing about not running his best when everything seemed perfect for him, is that you never know when ill-health or other impediments may arise. But I am pretty sure that if Usain Bolt decides to do so now, he can definitely set a world record that may almost last forever.

Posted by: Liu Xiaoxin, Beijing | August 16, 2008 4:22 PM | Report abuse

What would really have been fun is if the scoreboard results showed Usain Bolt with his time of 9.69 and Michael Phelps above him in first place at 9.68.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 16, 2008 4:49 PM | Report abuse

I tried to find this race on TV this morning to watch live, but after seeing that it wasn’t on one of the three channels covering the Olympics on my cable service, I thought that it must actually be scheduled for this evening. Not so! Let me say that this a GREAT LETDOWN in NBC’s coverage! The 100m is “the” premier Olympic event. It should have been shown live!

Posted by: MHO | August 16, 2008 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Congrats Usain.

What makes this run most amazing is that he celebrated prior to crossing the finish line and still set a new Olympic Record!

It is easy for me to sit in my living room and question this technique but the truth is if I was only 21 years old and realized that I had just won my first Olympic Gold medal in an event that is not my speciality, and as a result earn the title the 'fastest human in the world', I probably would have grown wings and fly around the birds nest stadium.

Again, congrats. I too, celebrate your joy.

Posted by: Vinnette | August 16, 2008 5:07 PM | Report abuse

It looks like he was running from the police...

Posted by: Dianne72 | August 16, 2008 5:22 PM | Report abuse

Diane72 you are racist punk...

Posted by: Samina Hayaat | August 16, 2008 6:30 PM | Report abuse

fastest human ever. one of the best athletic displays ive ever seen in my life. joking in front of the cameras before the race started, looking around at his competitiion before the race started, having one of the worst starts looking to the right to smile at the camera at the beginning, accelerating into the front all before dropping his hands looking to the right at beating his chest 30 meters before the race ended. And he still crushed the world record. Umbelievable

Posted by: Anonymous | August 16, 2008 7:20 PM | Report abuse

So glad people aren't reading newspapers anymore so they can anonymously make racist comments online. Yay America!

Posted by: DBKAlum | August 16, 2008 7:59 PM | Report abuse

this race was more than amazing. the realness that lightning bolt displayed made me love the olympics.

i see he did NOT have a DVD ready for sale seconds after shattering records like the swim champ did.

also i love mama bolt.....congrats jamaica.

Posted by: kari | August 17, 2008 10:02 AM | Report abuse

NBC has dropped the ball on their coverage of track and field by deciding to show everything delayed and with their choice of commentators. They have cameras covering every event and a lot is online, but I can't watch prelims in track or most of the swimming events because those have to be saved for primetime? Why does NBC feel the need to keep the timing and pace of a track meet. Track athletes hate the pace of meets. It's taped. We know. You aren't fooling us. There is no need to wait 2 hours between semis and finals. That one of the premier events wasn't seen by most is a joke. I feel even worse for the people on the west coast who don't even get live primetime coverage(although NBC does leave that "Live" text at the top of the screen). Even after all of the decent coverage of gymnastics(I thought they focused on a couple teams and athletes too much... it wasn't just the US and China competing), it's disappointing that they didn't carry the individual events live.

Regarding Usain Bolt's performance... WOW!!! I had read articles and write ups all day yesterday looking forward to the race. I knew what to expect, but the best article couldn't begin to capture what Bolt did. As a track & field fan, it's been great to follow Usain this year as he has produced the results and consistency for Jamaica that Powell couldn't even though he was new to the event. Phelps had a great week of competitions and his 17 races, 7 world records, and 8 gold medals were an incredible achievement, but what Usain Bolt did was simply amazing. Track and field isn't like swimming where records are broken at every other big meet.

NBC didn't do Usain Bolt's performance justice. Only they could somehow downplay something that amazing and make it feel insignificant next to Phelps' accomplishments. After Bolt won, he made it very clear he was running for his country and the medal. He didn't care about the time. He wanted to win for Jamaica, yet the interviewer asked about the time, the time, and the time. I've never seen a runner that blatantly relaxed and confident before a race. He was the 7th of 8 out of the blocks. He took the lead from the LSU NCAA Champion around 50m and then just made the rest of the field look like children. I was amazed by how far he was ahead of the field and how he was able to shut it down and celebrate on the way to running a world record. That's not supposed to happen against a field of elite athletes. Six of the eight runners were under 10 seconds. What Bolt did was amazing. There have been a group of Americans that I expect to push for Michael Johnson's 200m world record in the next couple of years, but it wasn't until last night that I really felt the record was in jeopardy and that it may happen at these Olympic games by a Jamaican.

ps-why devote an entire channel to soccer, but not have any commentators actually at the matches, NBC?

Posted by: sitruc | August 17, 2008 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Could it be the yams that form a hefty part of the Jamaican diet? Saw an interesting article called: "Yams: the food of champions" in Abeng News magazine. Google it.

Posted by: ellie | August 17, 2008 12:09 PM | Report abuse

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