As he glides towards the finish line, arms outstretched, face painted with a mixture of glee and cockiness, they want you to despise him.
Watch him strut around the stadium for one more victory lap. You might see pride, they see unacceptable arrogance. You see the climax of four years of hard work, they see disrespect.
IOC president Jacques Rogge criticized Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt on Thursday for showing a lack of respect to other competitors after his record-breaking gold medal performances in the 100 and 200 meters.
“That’s not the way we perceive being a champion,” Rogge said.“I have no problem with him doing a show,” Rogge said in an interview with three international news agency reporters. “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 meters.”
I haven't written about sports in a while, but I got that urge again recently. Like many of you, I've watched Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt capture the 100 meter and 200 meter gold medals with a combination of amazement and envy the past few days.
Amazement because it seems impossible that a man could run that fast. Envy because it's impossible for anyone who has ever run a schoolyard race to not feel a twinge of envy watching Bolt move across the Earth. As one of my friends put it, running is the one thing that all of us with full use of our limbs have a visceral understanding and connection too.
We may not know what it's like to train for hours to become finally honed running machines, but we know the joy of running. The sheer excitement of "picking them up and laying them down" so fast that if feels like you can take flight. It feels like only the wind can challenge you. It just feels...
My father and I have exchanged several late night conversations about "that boy Bolt." I've debated whether losing my sleep at night was worth watching him run, even though I already knew the results of his races. Bolt was excitement, an event like Flo-Jo once was during those late summer nights of my youth.
And certain folks can't appreciate his majesty.
First came the attacks because he managed to destroy the field while jogging the last few meters of his races. Then there was the complaint that his celebrations were too much, too exuberant and too brash. Finally, there were the whispers that no human could do what he had done without help from an outside source. A chemical source.
There is an easy racial comparison in there, one I think all of you racially conscious folks can see. But, I'm not going to go there because I have something else to say.
When did it become unacceptable for black people to celebrate our achievements?
I said black people for a reason. You rarely, if ever, hear complaints about celebrations levied against white players. When they celebrate it's due to a love for the game, a primal joy at participating. When we celebrate, it's because we lack proper decorum.
You know, I've never heard a black athlete criticized for displaying too much emotion when they fail. Failure, like the agonies of Lolo Jones and Wallace Spearmon, is wallowed in, all of the agony documented and recorded. Our pain is entertainment, truthfully the pain of all Olympic athletes is reveled in by the producers that decide who gets the spotlight. Asian, Latino, black or white, the pain of failure seems to be must-see t.v.
But, joy is not so colorblind. No, the joy of black athletes, their excitement at seeing the fulfillment of years of hard work, must only be displayed in an "acceptable" manner. There can be no strutting, no preening, no basking in the full glow of dominance. There can only be humble acceptance with a touch of unassuming joy. Pain is accepted in any form, but joy must be controlled.
Honestly, I didn't want to make this a race thing, but in my heart it feels like one. I have watched the U.S.A. mens basketball team, and I have seen them chastised when they show "too much" ferocity. When they return shoves and glowers with their own shoves and glowers. When they go "too" far.
I have watched Michael Phelps swim his way to wealth and seen him celebrate his best victories with incredible fervor. I have heard no complaints about him slowing down and saving something for later. And that has happened, it has been documented. Instead he has been lauded for his "strategy," praised for his dominance and championed for his emotion. He has been held up as the golden standard.
And Bolt has not. His dominance has been acknowledged, but only with a side order of hate. Some claim it's because he's not one of us, it's because he's not an American. We only champion our own, they say.
I don't know. It seems to be deeper than that to me.