How Usain Bolt Can (and will) Be Beaten

Red Shannon@@rojosportsFeatured ColumnistMay 9, 2010

With the most recent click of your mouse, you've either come here to:

A.) Discover what kind of idiot would make such a presumptuous statement about an athlete who is seemingly unbeatable;

B.) Play along, thinking this is some kind of satire piece;

C.) Consider the writer's arguments and how they might align with what you've been thinking all along.

I don't pretend to have a chance of convincing Group A, which is probably in the majority. But if Groups B and C will hear me out—with an open mind—I may escape with at least a sliver of cogency.

No human is invincible.

Even with his immense confidence and astonishing world records, I do believe Mr. Bolt himself would be first to admit it. Why else would he train with such vigor and so carefully plot out his future course—if not to seriously defend his turf from all challengers?

Remember that Bolt did not just appear on the scene in golden Pumas and flag-draped shoulders. He was once a gangly, raw kid who worked his way up with a few defeats along the way.

Usain Bolt has paid a price and knows the cost of making it to the top—and now, he understands first-hand the mental and physical expense required to stay there.

I dare say every facet of Bolt's body language, preparation, and gamesmanship is intended as a safeguard against a deep-seated realization that he can be beaten. This is not a weakness—it is a healthy awareness of reality.

My arguments might be perceived as a vendetta against Mr. Bolt.

Not true.

He is in fact a great champion who has conducted himself with dignity and flair. Presently, he is without question, track and field's most visible and effective ambassador.

And to be honest, there is a tiny cranny in my heart (at war with my reasoning mind) where hope still exists that he might remain undefeated.

Nevertheless, I do intend to assault the unrealistic notion that Bolt is somehow beyond human, impervious to the challenges of mere men.

Think of that notion as a protective armor encasing the almost god-like mystique of Usain Bolt.

But that armor has cracks, which are open to exploitation:

The Hunter Has Become the Hunted

"Don't look back. something might be gaining on you."  — Satchel Paige

As much as I would love to see more head-to-head matchups between Bolt and his top rivals, the fact that it happens so infrequently actually plays against Bolt.

Tyson Gay, running with a sore groin in the waning days of a long 2009 season, established his latest American record (9.69) without Bolt. Not only did that mark equal Bolt's second-fastest time, it sent a subtle message: The rest of the sprinting world is not going to roll over and die.

Just recently at the Jamaica Invitational, as Gay won the 400m in a respectable 45.05, do we think Bolt, gazing from across the stadium, was not reminded of the bulls-eye on his back?

Currently, there is only one scheduled 100m showdown between Bolt and Gay in 2010—in Brussels, Belgium, on August 27. What if Gay, and not Bolt, produces a record or near-record time in the interim?

It could happen.

It would change all the dynamics of that duel in Brussels.

Even though Bolt's records in both the 100m and 200m surpass the next-best times by a sizable 0.11 of a second, that same span equates to less than the blink of an eye.

In the sprints, there is no margin for error.

Tyson Gay struggled through most of the 2008 and 2009 seasons with injury. But now, apparently both Gay and Asafa Powell (9.72) are near 100 percent...and hungry—not to mention the other young lions stalking in the shadows.

It is said that iron sharpens iron. Continually competing against less than the best may have immediate rewards, but it has a tendency to dull the edge.

But aren't Bolt's rivals discouraged as they witness his incredible performances at seemingly every outing?

I would offer this: They are not discouraged. They are inspired.

For sure, it's in the head-to-head competition, shoulder-to-shoulder, lane-to-lane, where the victor tends to inflict the most psychological damage.

But even there, Bolt pulls his rivals along rather than pushing them back. Think of the migrating goose flying at the head of the formation.

Such is the curse of the front runner.

Talent Plus Diligence Begets Excellence

"I will study and I will prepare and perhaps my chance will come." — Abraham Lincoln

Athletes have natural physical gifts acquired at birth. As world-class sprinters go, Usain Bolt was certainly blessed with favorable genetics. His tall frame and long legs seem ideally suited for running fast.

The natural physique of every athlete is the Creator's contribution. The enhancement of that foundation through nutrition, training, exercise, and dedication is the athlete's contribution.

Consistent success at the highest levels of sport is the result of both contributions.

Again, Bolt has proved his dedication and commitment through a systematic training regimen, which only the elite can appreciate.

But what if there were another pursuer out there, secretly pushing a little harder, studying and planning a little more intently, toiling and preparing a little deeper into the night?

There will come a time when diligence is rewarded. The opportunity will arise, the conditions will be right, and the slightest error by Bolt could be decisive.

And What if Bolt Is Beaten..?

"Oh, how the mighty have fallen..." — King David

History tells us it will surely happen eventually—as the Bekeles and Isinbayevas have recently demonstrated. And unless Bolt escapes unscathed and retires in his prime, he too, will feel the sting.

All things considered, a defeat (or two) of Bolt, in his prime, would be good for the sport. A healthy rivalry, where the outcome of the struggle is uncertain, defines the very nature of sport more accurately than a predictable winner every time.

And Bolt has given no reason to believe he would not handle defeat well.

It would not be the end of the world for him. The latter part of his career will provide new worlds to conquer: the 400m and possibly even the long jump.

Gay and Powell, Bolt's most immediate threats, have both hinted at their own untapped potential. It will be interesting to see what kind of numbers they can put up this summer.

In this "off year," with no Olympics or World Championships, Bolt has implied he is saving himself, and would only exert enough effort to win—not necessarily set records.

The rest of the sprinting world may see such an attitude as an opening—perhaps the best chance to make up critical ground on the fastest man alive.


"We are stardust...we are golden..." — Joni Mitchell

Realistically, Usain Bolt is still the best sprinter on the planet. It seems almost a given that he is capable of lowering his own amazing world marks. It would also seem that he is truly of celestial origin.

But so are the rest of us.

Is it too much to believe that another human, made of the same stardust, can bring him back down to earth?

I can almost believe it myself.

Rojo Fact

In the 1972 Munich Summer Games, American sprinters Eddie Hart and Rey Robinson missed their 100m quarterfinal heats due to a scheduling error and did not appear in the finals.

Soviet star Valery Borzov won easily in 10.07. The two Americans vowed to get revenge in the 200m but were held off by Borzov, who won in 20.0.


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