By Chris Le
Another race, another world record.
On Sunday, at the Track and Field World Championships in Berlin, Usain Bolt pistol-whipped the 100-meter field, breaking the finish line in a world-record 9.58 seconds.
If you’re unfamiliar with track and field or if you’re the average, Customary System-loving Yankee who can’t quantify 100 meters and the idea of traversing such a distance in 9.58 seconds can’t register in your head, check this: Bolt ran, considering acceleration, at the average speed of 23.35 miles per hour and approached a top speed of 28 miles per hour. That makes Bolt the fastest biped in the world that’s not an ostrich or kangaroo (which can reach a hopping speed near 44 miles per hour).
But it’s not just the speed at which he travels that amazes, it’s also his atypical body for a sprinter. Past record holders hover around six feet: Tyson Gay, 5’11; Maurice Green, 5’9; Donovan Bailey, 6’0. Bolt, who measures at six feet, five inches, one hundred ninety pounds, and endowed with the fastest of fast-twitch musculature, moves in ways a man his size shouldn’t be capable of. Watching Bolt run, you begin to think that if there is a God, he was generous the day he created Bolt.
No other human comes close. In the finals, to Bolt’s right ran Gay and Asafa Powell — holders of the next two fastest 100-meter times ever — and yet Bolt instantly eliminated any notions of contention. Gay and Powell ran the race of their careers, and all they received in return was a feature in Bolt’s highlight reel. No other athlete makes his craft seem so effortless. Which naturally leads to the question: Who is the world’s best?
The only possible candidates for Most Dominant Athlete are Michael Phelps, Roger Federer, Manny Pacquiao, Tiger Woods, and of course, Usain.
But do any of them compare to the Lightning Bolt?
Take the Olympics. Bolt so comfortably distanced himself from the field that he pulled up after 70 meters, jogged the last thirty and still broke the world record. And this was in the Olympic Finals. No other athlete has the ability and, most tellingly, the cajones to be so brazenly confident.
Michael Phelps can’t afford the luxury of decelerating to gaze back at his competitors on the final leg of a meet. Roger Federer isn’t so assured as to cede a set, knowing he’ll win the next two (though, granted, he’s cocksure enough to make a jacket stitched with the number fifteen, before winning his fifteenth major). I’ll make out with Emmanuelle Chriqui before Manny Pacquiao plays defensive and surrenders the championship rounds, thinking he has the previous nine in the bag. And Tiger Woods — well, given his year and his recent withering at the PGA Championship, I think it’s safe to say Woods is out of the running … until next year.
Only Pacquiao and Phelps can challenge Bolt for the title.
Since a late career metamorphosis, aided by trainer Freddie Roach, Pacquiao has sent back all challengers regretful, and usually in a heap on the canvas. Entering boxing at flyweight (106 pounds) and being most comfortable at featherweight (126 pounds), Pacquiao has risen as far as welterweight (147 pounds) to face all comers, most recently against Ricky Hatton (KO 2), and most famously opposite Oscar De La Hoya (TKO 8).
Pacquiao is the best boxer in the world. But I say that with a little hesitation, and that little hiccup is typically brought about by the recently retired and un-retired Floyd Mayweather, who not too long ago held Pacquiao’s pound-for-pound crown.
There’s no such pause when discussing today’s greatest runner. The answer is immediately Usain Bolt. Whether it’s sprinting or long distance, there’s no better track athlete.
But it can be argued that Michael Phelps, swimming wonder and out-of-pool douche, has the upper hand against Bolt. Unlike Bolt, Phelps has mastered a wider range of strokes (butterfly, freestyle, medley) and distances (100-, 200-, 400-meter), amassing 14 Olympic gold medals and six world records.
Because of his range and overall dominance, I’m going with Phelps.
What say you?