I spent this weekend holed up in a fortified compound in Lake George, New York, consuming low-calorie beer and Oreos, interfacing with especially patriotic bears and hurling skeeballs at pontoon-boat captains.* However, I was informed by electronic missive of a number of weird occurrences in the world of sports: Michael Vick signed with the Philadelphia Eagles, thereby offending the delicate sensibilities of a town that considers Cheez Whiz a delicacy; Tiger Woods coughed up a major championship hairball at the hands of a previously unrevealed member of the DHARMA Initiative. And yet here was the strangest moment of all: A Jamaican named Usain Bolt pulverized his own world-record in the 100-meter dash, and everyone agreed that he could actually do much better...
Even though I have never owned a dog, even though I once had my knee punctured by a playful pit bull who mistook me (a jogger) for a milk-bone chew toy, these first two developments can be easily explained: Dogs are viewed by the masses as inherently human creatures, prone to suffering and heartbreak; Tiger Woods is not.
However, what is so shocking about Usain Bolt is that no one can begin to put his accomplishment in context. This is either A.) An incredibly well-thought out doping scheme, or B.) An unfathomable evolutionary leap. Either he has succumbed to human yearnings and (so far) gotten away with it, or he is somehow superhuman. Bolt just shattered his own world record in the 100 meter-dash by 11/100ths of a second, and according to a Canadian sprinter named Donovan Bailey, he still didn't even run a particularly good race. “In Beijing, of all the finalists, he was the worst technically,” Bailey told Christopher Clarey of the New York Times. “He’s improved a lot, but he can still go faster and improve his first 30 meters.” (And yet, even now, he can outrun the Beatles!)**
I mean...what? Is this some kind of collective hallucination? Has Usain Bolt found a way to manipulate the time/space continuum? Has he found a way to advance the science of blood-doping? Or is he merely (and rather suddenly) gifted with the most prolific fast-twitch muscles in the history of mankind? In a world where quarterbacks torture dogs and Tiger Woods loses to strangers, I know I shouldn't be so utterly naive as to believe that this, of all things, is really happening in a vacuum. I do suspect that Usain Bolt is guilty of something, even if it is merely hubris.
Then again, maybe I don't really care.
It is inherently fascinating to watch a man run very fast; Ben Johnson's performance in the 1988 Olympics is still stunning to watch, even if it ushered in an age of moralizing and deceit. Sometimes I think that this is one pursuit that should be driven by scientific experimentation. Even if that's what Usain Bolt is engaged in, we cannot fault him for failing to entertain us. Maybe, in the modern age, humanity doesn't matter at all. Maybe a few fleeting seconds of entertainment is the best we can ask for.
*In truth, I was attending a bachelor party with a rogue gang of music critics, who spent their time debating the relative merits of Pavement drummers and listening to songs like this.
**Or at least the Beatles before they discovered the merits of performance-enhancing drugs.