YourBlackWorld: Olympic 100 Meters Will Be Serious Showdown

August 4, 2008

To the interloper, the Olympic 100 meters is but a 10-second event. What’s shorter? A drag race? Bull-riding?

The notorious Ben Johnson once said, in a voice straight out of his native Jamaica, “The gun go off, the race be over.” He was talking about his own steroid-fueled dominance, but he could have been describing an average fan’s view of any 100.

In truth, it’s much more than the 10 seconds between the starter’s pistol and finish line. It is the epic preparation (and performance) required merely to earn a place as one of the eight Olympic 100-meter finalists on Aug. 16. It is the unreal pressure on a sprinter to deliver the contrary acts of speed and relaxation at the same. It is the relentless subtext of steroid use. It is, in fact, an opera compressed into those 10 seconds, an endless array of storylines hanging in the air after the word “Set.”

Usain Bolt of Jamaica will be there on the line. Assuming he has survived his first four-round, 100-meter Olympic competition as a favorite. He is 21 years old, 6-foot-5 and potentially a sprinter of such surpassing physical gifts that he evolves the sport by his very presence in it.

But as he sits in the blocks, I will wonder what the rounds have taken from him and where the pressure lives in his head. Last May, I sat with him in a hotel lobby in Kingston, and he seemed like a U.S. teenager, fighting back the temptation to check his texts while we talked. Is he ready for this stage?

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