Usain in the Membrane

It’s not just his running that has enamored us. It’s everything about the way he can light up a stadium before he even enters it. That he can taunt his opponents and still command their respect. How the announcers never talk about who will win the race but only who has a chance to finish second.

It’s that darn smile that will never leave his face. The horrible dance moves that you want to practice when nobody is watching. Wondering what he will do next time he has left everyone else in the dust.

Does it even matter how many medals he’s won? Is anybody even counting anymore? He’s already succeeded in making it so the world record isn’t even important because we know he could have set it even further if he wasn’t so busy pointing to the crowd or slowing up to have a conversation before he crosses the finish line.

My children don’t have much interest in the Olympics yet but I make a point of calling them over to the screen before every one of his races. So even if they don’t know anything else that happened in Rio, in 2016, I’m sure they’ll never forget the fastest man who ever lived. 

That’s important to a nostalgic person like myself, because I’m sure his name will still be brought every time somebody runs a sprint in the Olympics until way after their children are old enough to not be interested in the biggest games know to mankind. 

I watched as they went from boredom to sudden interest as the tall, well-muscled, but still somehow lanky Jamaican sensation strutted around the blocks before hushing the crowd, crossing himself and pointing upward.

He was already in their heads that quickly and they started to question. Who’s the American? Can he beat Bolt? Can anyone beat Bolt?

Of course I said yes. Justin Gatlin had beat him before and I wanted to believe he could do it again. However, not even their young impressionable minds were convinced. 

My son and I, who are realists, decided to try and stay loyal to Gatlin, but you could see his five year old wheels turning and he knew without a shadow of a doubt how I wanted the race to end. My seven year old daughter who is a bit more competitive, wasn’t about to give in that easy, so she picked Andre De Grasse because she liked his name.

After watching the favorite coast to an easy victory, my son and I were ecstatic at the decisive performance we had just witnessed but my daughter was obviously not as impressed. 

“Dad it’s not fair for Bolt to be in races.” She stated simply, as she left the room.

I try not to encourage a sore loser attitude  in my home but I tend to agree with her. It’s outrageous that a man who trails in every race he runs, can finish with extreme ease and with such a ridiculous cushion between him and the rest of the competition.

It seems pointless for the rest of the field to be training for four years only to find themselves competing for the silver medal in the biggest stage. It’s frustrating as a fan to want to know just how fast he really is. What if just one time he didn’t let up?

It’s unrealistic. Almost like watching Willie Mays Hayes jump out of bed in his his pajamas at tryouts and blow by the rest of the competition. 

Except for this is real life. Without trick photography. No one is slowing down the cameras. The worlds greatest showman is just bigger, stronger and more confident, than anyone else in the fastest races on the planet.

You can train. You can prepare yourself mentally. You can run your best race, but ultimately, when Bolt shifts into gear, you might as well be standing still.

Imagine if Bolt had ever felt the need to actually get a good jump at the gun, had worked to improve his acceleration and actually finished a race at full speed. Could he have run a sub-9-second 100?

Odds are he doesn’t want us to know. Because it doesn’t matter to him and he knows that if we don’t understand exactly how explosive he is, we will be left thirsting for more and hoping that some day he will take his foot off the break and show us just how fast the human body is capable of going.

Until then we will just keep dragging ourselves back to the screen with a old school rap lyric stuck in our heads and just like that, he’ll be gone…

and the legend will live on.

Peter Wiseman’s Olympic Athlete Profiles: Ibtihaj Muhammad

Ibti might hide behind a mask, but she is one of the bravest athletes you will ever meet. A female, African-American, Muslim, she will be the first member of team USA to wear a hijab in competition.

She originally chose sabre fencing because the helmet and full body gear give her a way to respect her beliefs without sticking out from the other athletes.

This doesn’t mean she is ashamed in the least bit, however, as Ibtihaj is known for advocating for the Muslim religion and promoting equality for athletes.

The 31 year old fencer is ranked 8th by the International Fencing Federation, and has already been named as one of Time’s 100 most influential people.

“I just wanted to break that stereotype and challenge people’s idea of what a fencer looks like”

Growing up in a diverse neighborhood in, Maplewood, New Jersey, Ibtihaj was able to be comfortable in her own skin. As her success in the sport allowed her to branch out, she realized that not every female athlete had that same luxury. That was one of the driving forces that kept her in the sport for this length of time. 

“When I looked at this sport, specifically the United States fencing team, it wasn’t very diverse. And I just wanted to break that stereotype and challenge people’s idea of what a fencer looks like. When I was told there had never been a Muslim woman who wears the hijab on the United States Olympic team, that was just another challenge, another goal I set for myself.”

Ibtihaj is no stranger to challenges as she makes a practice of training through Ramadan while fasting from sun up to sun down.

It’s worth it though for the young lady who is never more content then on the fencing strip where everything else fades away momentarily and she focuses only on her opponent.

It’s that focus that has her striving for gold, but either way she finds herself is in a great position, knowing that win or lose, she is making a difference in the world around her.