Usain Bolt

Usain Bolt ran a 9.69 100-meter dash yesterday to break his own world record and win an Olympic gold medal. His run was so dominant that he essentially stopped running in the last 20 meters, and instead began his celebration.

I admit I’ve become inured to the in-game celebration. It happens now, regardless. A guy tackles his opponent and raises his hands to the crowd. A dunk draws a chest pounding as the dunker jogs back down the court. A homer is now incomplete without the stand-and-stare-and-point-to-the-sky move. I admit I don’t like it, but hey, you know it’s just the gig today. So, great.

Bolt’s action bothered me for some reason, though. And it’s just today that I was able to put it into words simple enough to represent what I’ll call truth. In each of the cases above, the player has at least accomplished something. They have won, but more important, they have tried to do their best and they have accomplished something by doing so. Their crime against my sensibility is one of ego.

If Usain Bolte had run the last 20 meters at his race pace, it is reasonable to assume he would have beat his world record by an astounding number. Perhaps another tenth. Perhaps further. Who will know? But instead he stopped performing before the event was over in order to celebrate.

The message this sends to me is: I don’t care about doing my best. I just want to beat you.

At the end of the day, I guess that’s fine. I like competition, and being competitive is a valuable trait. But it bothers me because it doesn’t seem particularly Olympian, and because it just seems to be out of order. Athletics are so powerful because they are a metaphor for other areas of life. And in the end, I think the order should be: I will do my best, and then I will hope that’s good enough to beat you.

In this light, Bolt’s “crime against my sensibility” is not purely one of ego but also one of a form of sloth. Or, maybe better said, one of lazy craftsmanship.

Think about it.

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