Every four years, for ten seconds, the world stops to watch Usain Bolt run in a straight line for 10 seconds. I’m convinced they do it to capture (or recapture) a feeling.
In his latest dispatch from Rio, Joe Posnanski writes: “Yes, all Usain Bolt does is run. But when you watch a person do something better than it’s ever been done before, it stops being just that thing. Somehow, it morphs into magic.”
It’s a wonderful way to describe why people watch the most magnetic athlete in the world ply his craft. I’ve been trying to think of a way to describe how or what I felt watching this man flout the limits of human performance.
In the sporting world, the only thing that approximates the mounting tension and anticipation of those pre-race moments at the starting line is the staredown at the beginning of a major prize fight. The anticipation is almost unbearable.
But “unbearable anticipation” doesn’t really capture the feeling of watching Bolt run. It's more complex than that, more nuanced. Once the race starts, things change. The millisecond of confusion at the outset of the race, when Bolt is firmly entrenched in the pack; the second or two of awe as he accelerates, effortlessly catching and passing the leaders; the second of relief when it’s clear he’s going to win the race; and the giddy buzz that lingers for hours after he wins, the recurring wonder, the deep appreciation: You’ve seen the fastest human in the history of mankind.
I live minutes from New York City. Between work and play, I’ve spent thousands of days and nights in Manhattan. Even after all these years, I still get a dopamine jolt of electric pleasure every time I emerge from a subway station into the rushing currents of the city. Every time.
But there was a first time. There was a first time, many years ago, that I visited the city. A first time I felt that rush of… possibility. It wasn’t wonder. It wasn’t awe. It was an almost overwhelming, electrifying sense of possibility. And there aren't many feelings better than that.
Watching Usain Bolt run feels like visiting New York City for the first time.