12 final thoughts from the Games
Some back-in-the-U.S, jet-legged final thoughts after the Olympic track meet in Beijing:
Usain Bolt I: The protracted debate on Bolt's behavior in the 100 meters is remarkable. Sitting maybe 30 feet from the finish line on the night of the race, I never thought of bad sportsmanship. Here is what I scribbled in my notebook during the race and in the four or five minutes afterward:
Bolt avg start. Great transition. 50m race over. Turns rt, beats chest well bfr finish. 9.69! How much faster? Bolt keeps running around turn, partying. Powell and Frater standing at line, looking at board....Dix 3rd
I made no notation of any outrage. Trying to recall here how I felt in the aftermath of the race: I was excited to write about a world record, but I expected Bolt to eventually get it somewhere. His slowdown at the finish injected the moment with intrigue that, for instance, the 200 meters didn't have, because Bolt clearly left nothing on the table. The 100 had this element of "He could have run faster'' that made it surreal.
Not once that night, from the minute the race ended to when I was standing alone with Bolt in a parking lot two hours later, did I think that his reaction had been disrespectful in any way. I had met him in May; he comes off as loose and cool and younger than his chronological age (22 on the day after the 200).
Bolt likes to run and he never rips his opponents. I remember asking him in the spring what he thought of the news that Maurice Greene had been potentially implicated in a steroid scandal.
Bolt's eyes widened: "Maurice Greene used drugs?'' He looked genuinely hurt. Maybe he was messing with me, but I didn't get that impression. On race night, he was having fun.
On the day after the race, Ato Boldon (whom I quote so often I feel like he should have a co-byline on some of my stories; but he's just that good) told me that he didn't approve of Bolt's behavior because it was insulting to the other runners.
Two days later, Frankie Fredericks told me he didn't approve either, but for a different reason: He wanted Bolt to appreciate that opportunities to create something truly special -- good conditions, adrenaline-charged atmosphere -- are rare and should be embraced. IOC president Jacques Rogge took a clueless rip at Bolt (after letting China off the hook on human rights and Joey Cheek). And then Bob Costas, whom I don't think takes stands frivolously, piled on.
Nobody in the race complained. The stadium went nuts in support. And think about this: On football fields across the U.S. throughout the autumn, outside linebackers make tackles for no gain in the first quarter and rise, pounding their chest as if they have just stopped Jim Brown on fourth-and-goal. And as for taking the record down as far as possible, that's on Bolt. He probably will take it down further, but if he doesn't, he'll have to live with it. And the rest of us can revel in guessing what he might have run.
Usain Bolt II: He had better be clean. Few in the track community are entirely comfortable with the fact that Jamaica announced the formation of a national drug-testing agency (similar to USADA) only after the Olympics had begun. After Bolt first broke the world record on July 31 in New York, his Jamaican manager, Norman Peart, told me that Bolt had been tested only once, out of competition, before he began running meets in the spring. That's unsettling.
At the same time, Bolt ran fast when he was very young (52-flat for the 400 at age 12), and presumably he wasn't using anything then. (Of course that's what we said about Marion Jones, too). Jamaican sprinters were blood-screened repeatedly in Beijing, so the IOC was probably suspicious, too.
This is sprinting. If you love track, you cross your fingers and hope for the best.
Usain Bolt III: On Friday night, after the conclusion of the decathlon, I approached Maurice Smith of Jamaica, a decathlete who had been Bolt's roommate in the Olympic village, and asked him about his speedy roomie. "Usain can talk for himself,'' said Smith, "and he's doing a pretty good job of that.''
I'm thinking, wow, that was fast.
Usain Bolt IV: Whatever the level of criticism for his display in the 100 meters, it would have been exponentially worse if he had been wearing a USA uniform.
Usain Bolt V: One year ago at the worlds in Osaka, Japan, Bolt was the guy we chased down after the 200 meters to give us quotes on how good Tyson Gay was.
After Allyson Felix's silver medal in the 200 meters, clearly and transparently a huge disappointment, I asked Felix if she was planning to run the rest of the Grand Prix season. She said, "I'm running Zurich because I'm contractually obligated. That's it. I'm going home.''
Felix's 2008 season measures how difficult it is to win a gold medal. After taking silver behind Veronica Campbell-Brown in '04 and beating Campbell-Brown twice for world titles in '05 and '07, Felix had to grind her way through a challenging '08. She missed training in April when the father of her boyfriend, Kenneth Ferguson, passed away, and also when she graduated from USC. She interrupted her European season to serve as maid of honor in a close friend's wedding, adding two long flights to her itinerary.
In the end, she still ran a very respectable 21.93 seconds in the final, well behind Campbell-Brown's PR of 21.74, which was .07 under Felix's best.
Felix's presumptive rival, Sanya Richards, was equally disappointed in her 400-meter bronze. Richards rigged up badly in the homestretch and later cited a hamstring cramp. Another possibility is that after fighting illness (Behcet's Syndrome) for all of '07, Richards is still not quite back to the type of sharpness and strength she possessed in '06, and that deficit shows up in rounds.
That said, Richards and Felix were both brilliant and tough in the U.S.' 4x400-meter victory. Felix ran 48.55, the fastest split in the event, and Richards ran the second-fastest, 48.92, and bravely ran down Russia's Anastasia Kapachinskaya, on the anchor. From an American perspective, it was the most satisfying race of the meet.