This last Olympic blog of mine was going to focus largely on the inadequacies of the US track team (What, is the 400 meter length the only thing anyone can do correctly over here?) in comparison to the brilliance of the swim and even the fencing and target shooting squads (Davy Crockett would be jealous of the latter!), but the veteran, jaundice-eyed reporter in me called out to do something more important, more urgent than that.
I wanted to send an open letter to the world's fastest human: Usain Bolt of Jamaica.
So here goes:
Dear Mr. Bolt,
Please be clean, please be real.
And please don't view that opening line as a criticism, as a smack-faced, cynical, contemptuous slap in the face of your brilliance.
Just hear me out.
To say I was astonished, amazed, astounded and simply overwhelmed by your feats in the 100 and 200 and then again as part of an almost letter-perfect record-smashing 400 relay team was to say something like Van Gogh's "Sunflowers" is a nice painting. It just doesn't do any justice to you or your unparalleled talent. As a track junkie and a sprint relay disciple (Too many years being spoiled by Germantown, Nicolet, Homestead, Brookfield Central, Franklin and Menomonee Falls units at the WIAA state track meet made me thus) I was in seventh-heaven at your sheer, unbridled ability, which included casting aside rock-solid records like they were so many candy wrappers.
I, like many, didn't like your showboating at the end of the 100, but that was all right, you were just showing off to the world, but when you hammered your way through the finish line in the 200, taking down what my friend Homestead boys track coach Dan Benson said "was the one record he was certain would still be around when he died" (He was at the Atlanta Olympics when Michael Johnson set that coveted mark in 1996), all I could do was stand and clap quietly in front of my television in amazement.
Truly, you made yourself one for the ages.
Then you took several steps beyond even the historic, into the "once-in-a-lifetime" category. You deigned to run the third leg on Jamaica's 400 relay, not taking the coveted anchor spot, which was your right and the world's expectation. Instead, you gave it over to former world record holder in the 100 and your elder, Asafa Powell, whose history in big meets was not special, not very big at all.
You gave the stick to Powell with a huge lead and Powell exorcised a series of perplexing demons by carrying you and your teammates home, taking with him a strong 16-year old world record by an impressive .3 of a second. You chased Powell down the straightaway, your youthful exuberence combining with great national pride as your bounding, joyful steps fully confirmed what you had done.
Three races, three world records, three pieces of history that anyone who witnessed them could hardly ever forget.
Then in a final piece of simply perfect serendipity, you showed your heart to be even larger, by donating $50,000 to the victims of this spring's devastating Chinese eathquakes, which killed many 10s of thousands of people. You told everyone that you had had such a good time in China that you wanted to give back a little.
Amazing and utterly sublime!
So, Mr. Bolt with all this good will and grand endeavor firmly in hand and with many pocketfuls of money surely coming your way, I ask you again, please be clean. No steroids, no EPO, no human growth hormones. Remain unspoiled and break as many records as you can for as long as you can. Do many more good deeds and spread the good word about track, reminding people of its elegance, its simplicity and its sheer transformative powers when done at a fever pitch in the cauldron of marvelous competition.
Because the sport needs it.
Track, particularly in the US, has done everything it can to shoot itself in the foot in recent years. I remembered ruefully my astonishment at the grace and determination that a very young Marion Jones demonstrated in the 1992 US Trials in New Orleans. I thought she was for real: Smart, pretty and talented, only she was exposed this past spring as a fraud. She was found to be craven, small-minded and greedy as hell as her Olympic medals were stripped from her for rampant drug use. With disdain from the track world, hissing disgust from former teammates (who also lost medals as a result) and bankruptcy and jail staring her squarely in the face, many of us who once cheered her were forced to squirm through our own "Say it ain't so, Marion" moments.
So please Usain, I know it's a lot to ask, especially as you get older and the inevitable injuries come. Pressure from faster and younger people will force you to make hard decisions, but stay strong, be righteous. Not for me, not for the sport itself, but for the legions of fans you created in this fortnight of uncontained excellence. Do it for all the little kids who will have Usain "Lightning" Bolt posters on their walls in the coming next few years.
For them, be good, for them, be strong because they will follow your example.
For your current feats make you an icon of your age at the present moment, but you could be one for the history books if you are truly as grand, as true, as real as you appear to be.
Sincerely and with many thanks for a grand performance,
Steven L. Tietz
Track fan and student of history