Thursday, August 9, 2012

Usain Bolt vs. Kirani James

Usain Bolt is amazing. And I don't use that word lightly.

The Jamaican super star Bolt is unimaginably fast. At 25 years old, he's the first to win both the Olympic 100M and 200M in consecutive olympics. And he's already the favorite for 2016. On the biggest stage, he wins not by inches, but yards, demoralizing the world's other fastest humans. He is in a class by himself. He is aguably the most famous athlete alive.

Kirani James is also famous... in Grenada. James runs for the tiny island nation most of us only know for Ronald Reagan's cute little "Look at me, I'm a tough guy" war. But to James, it's home.

And this week, James did his nation proud with its first ever Olympic medal when he won the 400M Olympic gold medal.

When Bolt wins a big race, as he did twice this week, he strikes his made-for-TV-and-print-media "Bolt" pose. Along with being perhaps the greatest sprinter ever, he is a showman.

When James won his 400M semi-final, he didn't pose. He didn't seek the cameras. He didn't think of himself. He sought out and swapped numbers with another runner in the semi-final, one who didn't advance to the final, Oscar Pistorious. It was a simple, human, symbolic gesture, a showing of  unparalleled sportsmanship, and a very public sign of respect, one athlete to another, for the first double-amputee to compete in the "regular" olympics. (My post about the also amazing Oscar).

Before every race, Bolt mugs for the cameras and crowd, does an admittedly cool shimmy dance move, and ceremoniously wipes the sweat from his scalp, and flicks it from his brow.

Before his races, James kisses the symbol of Grenada on his singlet, drawing attention to his nation, not himself.

Bolt says he wants to be known as a "legend". He wants people to watch him race, turn off their TV, and say "Wow." He's probably accomplished those goals.

James says he wants to bring attention and prosperity to his nation. Born in  Grenada , training in America, he could have changed citizenship and run for the USA, the usually dominate force in the 400, and likely turned his Gold Medal into a big pile of dollars. Instead, he chose to run for Grenada because, he says, a medal for that tiny nation would mean more to them, and could do more good there.

When asked for an autograph by an NBC TV crew member for her daughter James wrote, "Dear Susan, your mother is very proud of you. Kirani James". He's 19.

Something tells me, given the same circumstances, Usain Bolt would not have written that.

The 2012 London Olympic games will forever be linked to the performance of Usain Bolt, who is a tremendous, once-in-a-lifetime athlete.

But I will always remember, and will remind my children of, Kirani James, a tremendous, once-in-a-lifetime person who also happens to run wicked fast 400.

Good running,