To be sure, there were a lot of great performances at the Penn Relays last weekend, and take away Bolt and the field was still ridiculously star-studded. But these days Bolt is one of the biggest names in all of sports so that's what we're all going crazy about.
So since ESPN is offering two encores of Saturday's card at the Penn Relays, we'll repost the Bolt feature from CSNPhilly.com.
Get ready for some more baseball and hockey beginning tonight.
World's Fastest Man Puts on a Show at Franklin Field
There aren’t too many titles that cause a crowd or force folks to react. The President of the United States is one. So too is the heavyweight champion of the world. Generally, those are two jobs that make people change their schedules or travel long distances just to catch a glimpse, and even then it’s just to catch a peek amongst thousands of other folks.
These days though, those titles don’t seem to be as respected as they were in the past. The President could be one of the most polarizing figures around, while it’s difficult to figure out who exactly the heavyweight champion of the world is. In fact, ex-champs like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson pack ‘em in, though more out of curiosity than anything else.
And that is no knock on Ali by comparing him to Tyson.
But mention the “fastest man on earth” and get ready to fill a stadium and/or cause a small riot. Certainly that was the scene at Franklin Field on Saturday afternoon when Usain Bolt showed up to race in the USA vs. The World competition at the Penn Relays.
Bolt, of course, is the 23-year-old Jamaican who destroyed the world records in the 100- and 200-meters at the Olympics in 2008 and the World Championships in 2009 in a manner that transcended mere athletics. In fact, Bolt’s electrifying efforts at those competitions motivated a even a few of the most jaded and experienced sports writers to describe the events as the most exciting and exhilarating they had ever seen.
Moreover, crusty old veteran track coaches have gone so far as to compare Bolt’s talent along the lines of those possessed by Einstein, Beethoven and Newton. Certainly those aren’t the usual names one hears an elite-level athlete compared to.
Chalk part of it up to the cult of personality. Sure, his talent is so far beyond his contemporaries that an “easy” effort against competition that featured the owners of 14 Olympic medals. For a non-Olympic and World Championships year, the 4x100-meter competition at the Penn Relays just might have been the best in the world this year.
Still, the largest crowd in the 116-year history of the event all came to see one guy, and he competed for just 8.79 seconds in his anchor leg effort. Actually, Bolt’s personality is so large in the sport that Olympic gold medalists and champions of the sport lingered around the track just to catch a glimpse.
“I was leadoff leg and I could actually hear, right next to me, the crowd screaming. I’ve been coming here for about 12 years now, and this was the loudest one. It was great,” said two-time world champion, Lisa Barber, who helped Team USA win the women’s 4x100-meters. “When Bolt was warming up, I couldn't hear my music anymore through my headphones. It's great that Usain is getting this much press. He’s getting so much recognition worldwide.”
It’s worth asking who the most famous athlete on the planet is these days. Certainly Tiger Woods is pretty well known, though that has very little to do with his sport. Bolt was asked about Michael Jordan, but his Airness has been retired for nearly a decade and his successors, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, aren’t the best players in their sport on any given night.
So in terms of pure domination of a sport on a consistent basis, Bolt is the greatest on the planet. And just like all of the races he has been in since 2008, it isn’t even close.
“Over the past two years I’ve been surprised by the amount of people that know me and the welcome I get when I go to track meets or functions,” Bolt said. “For me I’m still trying to get used to it and I’m enjoying it.”
As for the runners he’s beating, it isn’t so much fun. Before 2008, the 4x100 USA team that competed at the Penn Relays on Saturday would be the best in the world and the group that competed last year set the meet record. The loquacious and personable Shawn Crawford, the Olympic champion in the 200-meters in 2004, but finished a distant second to Bolt in 2008, appears to be frustrated by Bolt’s talents. Though he’s creeping up on the end of his career, Crawford knows the window for knocking off the fastest man on earth is closing quickly.
That is if it’s even open at all.
Team USA with medalist Walter Dix and anchorman Ivory Williams, Mike Rodgers and Crawford, actually had a nice lead over Jamaica heading into the final leg.
Then Bolt got the baton.
“I just hate to lose,” Crawford said, muttering a few unprintable words under his breath.
“[Racing against Bolt] excites and it motivates. The more excitement they bring to track and field, we all get the attention because we’re on the same playing field. But it motivates me because you want to be that guy winning. I want to get up there and showboat a little bit and be in the spotlight so I can talk a little mess.
“Well, I already talk mess.”
Talk is cheap, of course. Bolt doesn’t appear to say much on the track aside from flashing his trademarked “Lightning Bolt” pose, which probably is the coolest bit of posturing in all of sports.
Actually, just seeing Bolt run might be the coolest and surreal effort in sports. Standing yards away from the finishing line on Saturday, Bolt moves past as if he were a runaway motorcycle and the breeze from his nearly 30-mph wake was enough to cool the crowd on a sun-soaked afternoon.
“I told the guys to make sure I didn't have to work, because I really didn't want to do much,” Bolt said. “I got the baton, so I wasn’t really worried about anything else.”
Worried? What could the fastest man in the history of the earth ever have to worry about?