Fri, September 20, 2013

Usain Bolt continues to mature before our eyes

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Jamaica's Usain Bolt (L) wins the men's 100m final at the athletics event during the London 2012 Olympic Games on August 5, 2012 in London. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS

The playfulness and silliness is mostly gone. The fastest man in the world is the winner and still champion, only he’s older now, more deliberate, not as much fun and certainly more professional.

And maybe as dominant as he’s ever been.

Usain Bolt is growing up before our very eyes, the sprinter who takes our breath away, and creates head-shaking disbelief. He runs and we can’t help but stare in amazement. He runs and the world stops and watches. He runs — and even in the deepest, strongest, 100-metre race in history — he makes it all about him.

Bolt has now raced four times at the Olympic Games in his lifetime, has four gold medals, three world records, and on a cool night at a jammed, nervous but electric Olympic Stadium, he ran himself one medal closer to the legendary status he so desires.

He has made that definition himself. What a legend is. He has now won the 100 metres in consecutive Olympic Games — the first time anyone has done so without disqualification in the modern era — and should he repeat with a victory at 200 metres later in the week, then he will have reached his own definition. Then he will truly be the legend he already seems to be.

He moved one step closer to that status he envisions by running a different kind of race for him, his relatively slow start predicated by his unwillingness to false start. That cost him last year’s world championship. And when he followed up the worlds with two losses to countryman Yohan Blake in the Jamaican national championships, Bolt took stock of where his career was headed.

The clowning became secondary to training. The show before the show, the celebration afterward, the persona that made him so much the talk of the sporting world, has been put aside in the name of pragmatism. He thought of prematurely celebrating the 100 metre run — which he managed in Beijing — but he knew this wasn’t the time.

He wanted to run the race, full out. He didn’t start well intentionally. He knew if he was close at 50 metres, which it was, he would dominate the second half of the race, which he did.

And when it ended, he dropped to his knees, kissed the track, hugged Blake, the silver-medal winner, grabbed a flag but so much of the boyish joy, the little kid in him, was replaced by an adult who now expects greatness of himself. Even as he ran around the track, waved to the crowd, danced a little, he looked more consumed by his own accomplishment than in sharing it all with anyone else. He looked like he was doing it more because it was expected than it was natural.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Athletes grow up. Athletes change. And with a special, once-in-a-lifetime athlete like Bolt, you have to expect there is more questioning, more second-guessing, probably more soul-searching than ever before.

“The win means a lot because a lot of people were doubting me, a lot of people saying I didn’t look good,” Bolt said. “For me, it was an even greater feeling to show the world I’m still No. 1. I’m still the best.”

He had to show the world. But more than that, after the worlds, after Jamaica, he had to show himself.

He ran the best Olympic time ever run — the second best time ever — although it wasn’t a world record. He finishes in 9.63. It means he has now raced the three fastest 100 times in history.

And in his post-race press conference — perhaps the largest interview gathering of the Games to date — he barely told a story, hardly played with the crowd, took in each question with a certain seriousness that was absent four years ago in China. He was 21 then, obliterating the field in the 100 and 200, but clearly he was a kid then, a man now.

He talked with seriousness about what this win means with Monday being the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence. He talked about hoping to run in Rio in four years. He paid homage to his young friend Blake, whom he blew away in the final 30 metres. And he plans to celebrate his first gold medal here by getting some sleep.

The new Usain Bolt is different than the old one, maybe better, maybe stronger, certainly more mature, and still the single most commanding athlete on the planet.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

Twitter: @simmonssteve