Constant Bolt in times of changing climate
By Op Rana (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-08-20 07:50

Constant Bolt in times of changing climate

Brains over beauty or brawn, any day. That used to be my belief till the world got a Bolt from the blue last year.

Beijing, and the rest of China, remembers the tall, swanky Jamaican with fondness from the 2008 Olympic Games. He came to the Chinese capital as the 100 m record holder, no doubt. But he still had the Asafa Powells and Tyson Gays breathing down his neck. But then came Aug 16, 2008 "when he slowed up, stretched his arms out wide and put his palms out, then slapped his chest" and silenced any doubters still left inside the Bird's Nest or beyond its wide steel girders.

I was not in the National Stadium on that day to see lightning Bolt strike and shave 0.03 second off his own world record of 9.72 seconds. I wasn't lucky enough to see him shatter Michael Johnson's 12-year-old record either. But I saw the Bird's Nest coming alive when the men's 100x4 relay was announced. I heard the buzz over Bolt, felt it getting wild with each passing second and couldn't believe the applause for a foreign athlete could drown my own voice in a stadium (almost) full of Chinese when he walked onto the track. Such was (and is) the popularity of the Jamaican in China. He honored the roaring welcome, with a third amazing sprint, which many experts said was faster than his 9.69-second 100m dash a few days ago.

Bolt lay low after the Beijing Olympics, slipping in a performance here and a show there. A foot injury suffered in a car accident made him take it easier. But then the World Championship in Berlin seemed to need him more than he needed it, for as Lamine Diack, president of the IAAF, track and field's world governing body, said: Bolt is a potential one-man renaissance.

Diack's comment came at a press conference on Sunday after Bolt broke the 100 m world record for the third time in just over a year. And he did it in style, wiping an unbelievable 0.11 second off his own record, set in Beijing. For the uninitiated, the largest slice off the 100 m record was Maurice Greene's 0.05 second (from Donovan Bailey's 9.84) in 1999. Usually, a runner used to pinch 0.01 or so from the prevailing record until Beijing was hit by a thunder-Bolt.

Then came his obliteration in Berlin on Sunday - in the same Olympic Stadium where Jesse Owens won four gold medals 73 years ago, cocking a snook at Hitler and his Aryan supremacy.

Bolt, who could win the 200 m today for a sprint double, is a natural sportsman like Owens. His actions and antics might not please traditionalists, but they "seem to strike a chord with younger fans, and even his competitors". If fans think he is poetry in motion during a sprint, then his by now signature style of shooting in the air with his hands has to be music to the eyes.

The adoration of the crowds, the love of officials (with a couple of exceptions) across the world and the respect from fellow sprinters, all these are admiration for his power and speed, but more than that they are tribute to his healthy sportsmanship, for he has renewed the credibility of athletes, covered as they were by big-time drug scandals since the much maligned Ben Johnson ran his blazing 9.79 at the Seoul Olympics 21 years ago.

Bolt seems to be the only constant in these times of fast changing climate. And the world would like to see him that way, and not soil the sport arena with drugs as we have polluted the atmosphere with carbon dioxide.

E-mail: oprana@hotmail.com

(China Daily 08/20/2009 page8)