Michael Phelps has deservedly owned nearly every headline at these Olympic Games. Not only has he captured enough gold to fill
He’s been pushed in only one final—the 4x100m freestyle relay that pretty much sent Rowdy Gaines over the moon, perhaps out of the Milky Way—and to be sure, it was great theater. But Phelps only had a quarter of a hand in winning that race. In every individual event, his opposition has been rendered (in an athletic context) impotent. It hasn’t even been “Michael Phelps and everyone else.” It’s just been Michael Phelps. Seriously, the camera would have had to cut him out of the shot on numerous occasions in order to capture the rest of the field.
To be sure, he’s utterly creamed a tremendous host of talent. But he hasn’t had legends on either shoulder in the parallel lanes. His Russell has seen no Chamberlain. His Sampras has seen no Agassi. He hasn’t had an equal pushing him every step of the way. Maybe (actually, likely) it’s because his greatness is on an unfathomable and ethereal level. Whether or not that’s the case, the fact remains: his dominance in his solo swims has become more commonplace than edge of your seat exciting. That’s a compliment to an otherworldly champion and a testament to his uniqueness. But if a beggar is to be a chooser, then the only thing Phelps’ journey has lacked is noticeable pizzazz from his competition.
Enter the men’s 100m dash, the single most violent display of raw power and speed in the world. Enter the marquee trio of likely competitors: Tyson Gay, Usain Bolt, and Asafa Powell. This is a game of H-O-R-S-E between Pete Maravich, Jerry West, and Larry Bird with a gold medal on the line. These three men are so indiscernible in their ability that to tell them apart would be to separate the Olsen twins, only if there was a third sister and they were actually the Olsen triplets. It’s a treat to have one Gay, one Bolt, or one Powell for one Olympic Games. But to have all three on the same track vying for arguably the most prominent title in all of racing (whether by foot, swim, or stick shift), the famous “World’s Fastest Man,” is utterly unusual.
Unusual and unparalleled.
For perspective, consider this: between them, they hold the eight fastest 100 times ever. No, not eight of the twenty fastest or eight of the ten fastest, the eight fastest e-v-a-r. To post one such time would be the race of a lifetime for most sprinters, but for these men, their constant and common supremacy separates them as a group from the rest of the competition. They are perched at the pinnacle of their craft, and whereas Phelps is a singular and untouchable man, Gay, Bolt, and Powell have to play tug-of-war over who’s better. Sure, Phelps is overall more dominant in swimming as a generality than these three men are in foot racing, but to see the glamour event of track & field so populated with superlative talent provides a different kind of intrigue to complement the Phelps storyline(s).
Because these guys carry with them such racing legend, the interest in the competition is automatically raised. This 100m dash deserves every shred of hype it is given, because although sprinting records are perpetually broken, to see the three athletes who have broken those records with such frequency in such a short span of time assembled on the same track at the highest level in existence is absolutely tremendous.
Whoever captures gold in this event will have earned it. And unlike the case with Phelps, your guess is as good as mine.