Giant on the move
Was Usain Bolt’s theatrical exuberance before, during and after his 100 metres final appropriate for a man who gave a devastating performance that broke his own world record?
Or was it indulgent, inappropriate and over the top?
Do we want our sportspeople to be modest personalities whose performances do the talking?
Or is showboating and swagger part of the big game experience, key to both the entertainment we crave and the self-belief needed to win at the top level?
Sprinters are not known for being shy, retiring people but a touch of braggadocio is needed by people who explode in intense effort for a few seconds, adrenaline and energy coursing through them, and must then run off their brain-popping endorphins in victory laps or a disappointed jog to the dressing room.
Sweeping the blogosphere, there are two divergent camps when it comes to beach volleyball.
There are those who complain that it is demeaning that female athletes play in bikinis while men wear tanktops and long shorts. Then there those who post pictures of players’ posteriors with pathetic locker-room comments that seem to prove the first camp right.
“Well that’s it,” a journalist friend said when he phoned me at the Bird’s Nest a couple of hours after Liu Xiang hobbled out of the Beijing Olympics. “We might as well pack our backs and go home.”
We won’t, of course, but for us China-based reporters, this was always going to be the big one: the race that defined the Olympics.
I was in the Olympic stadium in Athens the night Liu won the 110 metres hurdles gold. Then it was a mild diversion, a tremendous performance from an unlikely source. He had barely finished his lap of honour, though, before his title defence in Beijing was being written about. It was too neat a line to miss.
Since then, I’ve written thousands of words about the skinny man from Shanghai with a penchant for karaoke and braised pork.
I was there last year, too, when he won his first world title on a hot and humid night in Osaka, his favourite track.
By then I’d been inside the Bird’s Nest and even as I pondered the raw concrete bowl with mud beneath my feet where the track would lie, I was thinking about how it would look and sound packed to its twisted steel rafters with a fevered Chinese crowd cheering Liu on.
We did see him run in the stadium at a test event earlier this year, but, to adapt a line from an American politician, I know Olympic finals and that was no Olympic final.
After his injury earlier this season, and his disappearance behind closed doors for a couple of months, I can’t even say I’m even surprised by what has happened.
I have always felt sorry for Liu because of the pressure he was under and today also felt sympathy for his coach Sun Haiping, who has always come across as a thoroughly decent man.
But rather selfishly, my main emotion is disappointment. We now know almost for certain that we will never hear the sound of 91,000 people celebrating an Olympic gold medal for one of their own in what must be one of the world’s finest stadiums.
PHOTO (TOP): Liu Xiang of China grimaces in pain during his warm-up before the start of his 110m hurdles heat in the National Stadium at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 18, 2008. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich
The Olympic soccer tournament does not cut much ice in Europe but it is taken much more seriously in South America. Brazil have won the World Cup five times, the Copa America eight and the Confederations Cup twice and their failure to add an Olympic gold to their collection rankles.
Liu Xiang’s quest to win a home Olympic gold ended before it had begun on Monday, as an injury prevented the 110 metre hurdler from starting his first heat.
China’s world and Olympic champion, the host nation’s best hope of an athletics gold medal at the Beijing Games, pulled up after a false start and walked off the track, stunning the huge crowd at the Bird’s Nest stadium into silence.
Yesterday I took a mean swipe at sports journalists for the vacuous questions they put to athletes. I must tip my baseball cap today, however, to the reporter who asked Usain Bolt how the fastest man in the world had spent his day.
It seems the Jamaican did a lot of time sleeping, and in between feasted on “nuggets”.
Fraser finished ahead of Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson, who dead-heated for silver in a Jamaican clean sweep at the Bird’s Nest on Sunday.
As Usain Bolt coasted past my press seat in a burst of speed and swagger on Saturday night, splaying his arms and pumping his chest as he crossed the 100 metres finish line, it was just the buzz everyone had promised me from my first Olympics.
I was there to report on the atmosphere at the Games’ blue riband event, but involuntarily found myself screaming encouragement, then laughing in joy and awe. As he ran around the track in delighted celebration, I was close to tears.