category : ‘Heroes Big and Small’


Guh Haad n Dun!

08.09.2017
Proud Emblem of a Proud People

Proud Emblem of a Proud People

My Jamaican friends and friends of Jamaica will have little doubt about that title. It is inspired by the closing out of the active racing career of one Usain St. Leo Bolt.

I guess we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves on that, as there is still the 4X100 Relay, but Bolt (or any of the other team members) can only do so much toward the success of the whole. He says his solo career is over. I tend to believe it. Personally, I think I wish he had decided the Rio Olympics was the time for that.

The literal translation of the title is “Go Hard and Done“. It implies (across a wide range of possibilities), a philosophy or approach. Put into ultimate practice, you could just translate it to “Usain Bolt”.

I’m not sure where to begin with my little tribute to this man who is without doubt, and with no intended diminishment of the achievements of so many other amazing athletes,  the best sprinter ever. There are some hard statistics that just take the statement from an opinion to plain simple fact. He holds a World Record at 9.58 for 100m that it is hard to envision being broken. If it is, I imagine it will be done by someone as yet unborn. His 200m record is 19.19, which averages to 9.59/100m, or essentially just ‘more of the same’. He has personally won double gold (100m and 200m) in three successive Olympic Games and a total of seven golds at 100/200m at IAAF World Championships. I am leaving out the Relay Golds, simply because they are team efforts that can’t be attributed to any one runner, and are always vulnerable to a bad pass, baton drop or a lane violation. Only the solo events are ‘pure’ in the sense that nobody else’s performance is involved except as head to head competitors. The record is pretty much undisputed.

Usain-700x400

Usain Bolt – London – IAAF World Championships

There was a sadness in seeing Bolt take ‘only’ a third place in the 100m event just a few days ago. But, he was THIRD, not LAST nor was he eliminated prior to the final! Let’s go just a bit deeper into this. To be clear, I am not saying he should have won. The winning time was 9.92, Bolt clocked 9.95. He was 3/100th of a second off of Gold, about 30cm or one foot. So, the sadness was more sentimental than reality based. Some would argue that Gatlin, who took the Gold should never have been in the race because of two drugging ‘convictions’ and suspensions. According to reports in the news at time of writing, one of those people is none other than Sir Sebastian Coe! As a Canadian, it isn’t hard to remember Ben Johnson, rightly disciplined for his transgressions, and yet we have Gatlin on the top of the Podium in London. How does that happen?

Still, there could easily have been someone else ready to lay down just as quick a time, even if Gatlin wasn’t competing. As a Canadian, the name Andre De Grasse kind of pops to mind, but in racing you just never know. And, regardless of such speculation, there is the small matter of Coleman who nipped Bolt by 1/100th of a second, mostly by getting his ‘dip’ just right. Bolt knew Coleman had him as they neared the line and clearly tried to out-dip the young speedster, but maybe did it almost a stride too soon. That is just my opinion on watching and re-watching the finish. Bolt could be seen/heard in his gracious congratulations, saying to Gatlin, “I didn’t see you!” Would it have made a difference? On that night, I personally don’t think so. The race was probably lost in the starting blocks. It was reported that Bolt’s reaction time was 0.044 slower than the rest (or at least the guys that mattered). Slower by 0.044. But look, 9.95 – 0.04 is 9.91. If he had just got an even start, I would be writing a different story. A bit more on this later. [Ed Note: My mother had a saying that covers this kind of speculation: “If the dog hadn’t stopped to pee, he’d have caught the rabbit!”]

As a ‘highly Seasoned Athlete’ of 72, it feels silly to talk about Bolt as ‘old’, but in terms of the kind of performance required of him, or any other elite sprinter, 31 is getting pretty long in the tooth and in his case, he didn’t just pop onto the scene. He has been competing hard since he was 15 years old.

There is no doubt that Usain Bolt has a physical advantage over many other sprinters, but it seems he also has a work ethic surpassed by few. Because he is a natural showman, some would say ‘clown’, it is easy to just see this guy who comes out, fools around, runs really fast, then fools around a bit more. We (well most of us) love the public personality of this man. He has brought a lightness and joy to the world of track and field that has not been there for a long time. When you combine his behind the scenes willingness to work, sweat, and suffer, with the physical advantage (his height and stride), you get Usain St. Leo Bolt, Champion.

It has been reported that Bolt generally takes about 41 strides over 100m. Most sprinters, even the best, need about 44 strides. Let’s look at that in the simplest terms. Every stride taken by Bolt averages 2.439m. Every stride taken by his competition covers 2.273m. That doesn’t sound like a big difference, just 0.166m per stride. But, it isn’t as simple as stride length. There is the driving power behind that stride. Now let’s assume that Bolt can match the turn-over of the others in any given race and that he can realize the differential built into his stride. That gives him something very near a 7m advantage. The assumptions are only valid if we accept there is a kind of ‘all things being equal’ aspect to his training relative to the others and his readiness to race on the day. As noted, Bolt does not have a lightning fast start. Reaction times from this last race showed that alone as enough to put him into First, had he only matched the field. The advantage in his stride, has made up for the ‘slow’ start in more than a few events. When we see him flowing down the track and shutting down with 10-20m remaining, it is probable that he did get a good start and was able to achieve full stride and power at an early point, more or less dooming the rest of the field.

Anyway, enough of this. My point is that it is going to take a special person to bring both the necessary physical stature and work ethic to the track, and in any way challenge Bolt’s achievements. It is not hard to see that his 9.58 100m record came on a day when EVERYTHING was just right. He had a fabulous start, was in top form and could capitalize on his physical stature; and weather conditions had to be right as well. To threaten the record someone would have to be able to deliver all these things at the same time.

Now, in relation to his career record, imagine some individual sprinter doing it for at least a decade in terms of winning virtually all the big races. Remember, Usain Bolt has dominated both 100m and 200m and there are specialists in EACH of those distances that are just a bit faster in one or the other. This unknown successor will have to dominate the specialists at BOTH distances – for about 10 years!

In ‘getting it right’ there is also the balance of effort when you must run heats to get to the race that counts, the final. Any runner must go just hard enough to move on, but not so hard as to risk injury or fatigue before the race that ‘counts’. In training and preparation, elite athletes are always on that edge. You don’t just walk up and register for a spot in the Olympics or Word Championships. You must win your way into such positions, which means you must race, and race hard just to be able to get into those ‘heats’. Andre De Grasse is a bright light on the Canadian sprinting horizon, but he isn’t there yet and even though he has been having a brilliant season, had to pull out of the World Championship due to a hamstring strain. Anyone wanting to be ‘the new Bolt’ has to deal with such potential situations too. Regarding De Grasse, and while it upset those who just wanted spectacle, withdrawing was the right decision for a young runner with a huge potential.

Soon Come? Rio Olympics - 200m

Soon Come? Rio Olympics – 200m

I was personally saddened that the confrontation could not happen, not because I 100% wanted to see him defeat Bolt, but because I wanted to see the head to head race and to at least see our Andre with the chance to perform in competition with Bolt, as something more than the ‘out of nowhere’ up-start that he was at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Because of everything I said before about Bolt’s physical and other advantages, I can’t see De Grasse or anyone else of his physical stature breaking Bolt’s records. On the day, Andre might have been able to win a race. That, I was kind of 50/50 on as to whether or not I wanted to see Bolt lose. Of course, if someone was going to beat him in a race, then I would be all over it being our boy!

While I’m talking about Andre De Grasse, he provides an excellent example of everything having to be perfect on the day. It happened just weeks ago, in this track season. Clearly, Andre brought his A-Game to one of the Diamond League events earlier this year, and laid down a 9.69, but, it was wind assisted and did not count for the record books, other than as a win over those competing on that day. It was by far the fastest time by anyone this year, but IT DIDN’T COUNT.  That’s how it is. That’s just one reason records are so hard to come by!

So much for the mechanics. In some ways it is the least of what Bolt really means to the world of Track and Field and to a small country called Jamaica.

Being inspired at Reggae Marathon! To the World!

Being inspired at Reggae Marathon! To the World!

As anyone who ‘reads me’ knows, I have my own little love affair with Jamaica and will be continuing my attendance streak at the Reggae Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K, with 2017 being seven years in a row. I admit part of it is how much I love the event and the people associated with it, but I also feel like Negril, JA is my ‘happy place’. I have no intention of analysing this, but there is no place that gives me such a feeling of calm and peace (and NO, I’ve never indulged in the ‘herb’). More than once, including this time, I have extended my stay beyond the core time of the Reggae Marathon. The extended stay is all about having time to feel that other aspect of being there. They say there are two kinds of Jamaicans: Jamaican by birth and Jamaican by association. I think I may be one of the latter!

Anyway, my point regarding Usain Bolt is that  you cannot go ANYWHERE in Jamaica without seeing his influence on the pride and mindset of the people. It is quite amazing and positive.  There is no doubt Usain Bolt ‘lif dem up’. Like many, he is just a boy from the country. From my perspective it isn’t just his running but more his spirit. Jamaica boasts a line of world level sprinters unequaled by any other nation. To name a few, the list includes Herb McKenley, Don Quarrie, Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake and these are only the men. Not only that, Jamaica has also provided other nations with top sprinters who can claim Jamaican heritage. That includes Canada, and our Harry Jerome, Donovan Bailey, Robert Esmie and Andre De Grasse. These names are just off the top of my head and I suspect some of our other top names have at least a little Jamaican blood flowing in their veins.

Jamaica is a young country. As I write, they are celebrating the 55th Anniversary of Independence. It hasn’t been easy. There have been struggles and the politics has been problematic. Many people hear Bob Marley’s music and for the most part are caught up with the rhythm and lilt of the reggae sound, but REALLY listen to his lyrics. They are powerful and political in the sense that he admonished the people of Jamaica to take control of their lives (Lively Up Yourself). Many of the songs talk of poverty and life (No Woman Nuh Cry) – his own early life. His ‘non-partisan’ political stands nearly got him killed and resulted in his self-inflicted exile for some time. He was so popular with the people that both the main political parties wanted his endorsement, yet really wanted him to just shut up. This is just a tiny bit of background as to why Usain Bolt means so much to Jamaicans. He represents hope and success. Marley was the voice of protest. Bolt is the vision of hope. At least that is how I see it.

I believe Bolt’s success can be explained without the need of PEDs; at least I hope so. I’ve often thought how devastating it would be for the people of my favourite island nation, if he fails a drug test and all of this turns out to be ‘dirty’. To his people he is so much more than just a world class sprinter. He sets an example and is truly ‘one of them’. He brings it home when he is not training and competing. Now that he can, he even makes sponsors come to Jamaica to make the commercials he does. He spends a lot of time in Jamaica and spends his money and dispenses his charity at home. He gives his time because he knows how it impacts his people.

For a nation that sometimes seems unsure, Usain Bolt answers Bob Marley’s question: Could You Be Loved.