Olympic athletes train for a long time before it comes down to mere seconds in their respective races. Usain Bolt has been a phenomenon at the Post-Phelps 2008 Beijing Olympics and thanks to his cool Jamaican attitude, is also a crowd favorite. You may remember couple of Chinese fans sneaking into the group hug with Bolt’s family after his amazing 100m victory. Usain Bolt will be remembered not only for winning the 100m and 200m double after 24 years but more importantly for being the first man to do it in world record times. And what world records at that! He almost sauntered in to the finish line during the 100m celebrating and thumping his chest after the 80m mark while his equally celebrated competitors were still struggling hard. In spite of doing that premature celebration, he still smashed the world record with plenty to spare leading commentators to speculate how much more he could have broken it by had he continued his pace. The crowds loved it except for one man – International Olympic Committee (IOC) Chief, Jacques Rogge.
In Rogge’s words, “I think he should show more respect for his competitors and shake hands, give a tap on the shoulder to the other ones immediately after the finish and not make gestures like the one he made in the 100 metres.” He went to say, “You don’t do that. But he’ll learn. He’s still a young man.” Excuse me, what does a sports bureaucrat know about celebrating post-victory? Being an Olympic athlete himself (sailing 1968 – 1976), he should’ve known better. Has he never watched competitive sports and not seen anyone else do it? A sportsman is anything but humble; the world generally excuses arrogance on the sports field and as Mohammad Ali said, it ain’t braggin if it is true. The morally bankrupt Olympic Committee criticized for accepting bribes to host the Olympics and looking away from China’s continued human rights violations is hardly the authority on good behavior let alone moral superiority [image source].
Wild exuberant chest-thumping celebrations are hardly new to sports. Even if we ignore those crazy and wild end zone celebrations in NFL, there are plenty of examples in Olympics itself. Phelps and his teammates screaming and stretching their arms after that fantastic 4×100 relay or Kitajima’s screams after each of his Olympic gold-winning victories, or even that famous Australian swimming team playing the air guitar after their unexpected victory following Gary Hall’s claim that Americans would smash the Aussies like guitars. Bolt’s celebration given his astounding achievements were hardly any different. Heck, Shawn Crawford the person who came in second defended Bolt, “To me, I don’t feel like he’s being disrespectful. If this guy has worked his tail off, every day, on his knees throwing up like I was in practice, he deserves to dance.” So if Bolt’s competitors have no problem, Rogges had little reason. I’ve seen my share of track and field events this Olympics and in no race has the winner gone over to shake hands with others; in fact others have congratulated the winner.
Is it because Bolt hails from a small country that has successfully swept the sprint medals? Or is it because the celebration does not follow Rogges idea of muted ‘sophisticated’ form of behavior? I guess it is somewhat like the reaction some Americans have toward the loud boisterous attitudes of African-Americans (think Punjabis in India) and it makes them look down on such behavior when in fact it is simply a different form of behavior that departs from their preconceived notion of the norm. Asafa Powell minced no words in saying just that after yet another gold for Bolt in the 4x100m, “the US did it all the time and nothing happened.”
We often get caught in the hype they try to sell us that Olympics is “we are the world” kinda mushy stuff but at the end of the day, it is an intensely competitive sports event. Victors are not only excused but in fact entitled to their choice of celebration.