It's pretty rare when you can look forward to something a little too much and not walk away from it disappointed. The whole problem with high expectations is that they skew our perception of success. Would anyone have been satisfied if Bolt had won that 200m by just .05 seconds in 19.60? It would have been a PR for him, and it would have been the second fastest time ever (I think...I'm going off memory here). But I can almost guarantee people would have been a little let down.
Japan is really good about placing unrealistically high expectations on athletes. Not quite as good as China, perhaps, as the Liu Xiang story seemed to make clear, but still, Japan is a consistent contender for the title. Since Bolt ran 9.69 in the 100m, everything about him (and there's been a lot) has included the reference to his breaking the 200m world record, too. Before the race I told my wife I expected he'd run 9.47 or so, and that everyone would be let down. And yet I was wrong. He did it. 19.30. And I can only imagine what he'll do to everyone in the 400m relay...
Anyway, I try pretty hard to temper my expectations as a fan. I focus more on process than outcome, and take my enjoyment or disappointment in the form of evaluating how an athlete executed their race. I realize only three people can medal, and only one can win. But that doesn't mean you should run a stupid race. Or if you're a distance runner, never engage in it. So while we've certainly seen (or not seen) some great performances, we've also seen (or not seen) some stinkers. Here are ten thoughts on the action over the past few days:
- I know Bolt is the big story, but there's another story that's gone unreported and needs to be told. Japan did not show the men's 1500m final. I repeat: Japan did not show the men's 1500m final! Didn't even show highlights. They interviewed two wrestlers instead. One guy got bronze, the other fourth. Instead of showing the marquee distance event of the Olympic Games! I half blame Japan's ridiculous belief that only Japanese people and world record holders are competing in the Olympics. But I also half blame Bernard Lagat. No seriously. Japan had very high expectations for him. I think when he failed to qualify, the Japanese broadcasters simply didn't know who anyone else was.
- Bolt was truly exceptional. He savored his victory and ran a passionate world record in the 100m. And he was all business in the 200m, as he needed to be to break Michael Johnson's record. Wallace Spearmon, on the other hand, ran yet another ridiculous race. Why is someone so fast so satisfied with barely getting bronze medals? I know he's American, but I simply can't root for him...
- The 5,000 meter prelims were awesome. Was it just me, or did Matt Tegenkamp look Bolt-esque as he cruised in, winning his heat over men like Tariku Bekele who were obviously sprinting? He looked like he had a ton left. And Lagat seemed to be sending a message in winning his heat, though I can't help but wonder if he just raised Kenenisa Bekele's alarm a little. We might see a much faster 5,000 final than four years ago. Finally, as often seems to be the case for Americans who finish third at the Trials, Dobson just never engaged in his race. I don't know what his race plan was, but why it didn't include being with the lead pack in a slow race is beyond me. He ran like a Japanese guy. (Oh, I hope my wife doesn't read this...)
- There being an exception to every rule, Dawn Harper--who finished third at the Trials--won gold in the 100m hurdles! That makes her the third Bruin to win the 100mH in an international championship final within the last 4 years (Joanna Hayes in Athens, Michelle Perry in Helsinki & Osaka). My favorite part, however, was her reaction: "What? What?! WHAT?!" as she ran around the track not believing what just happened.
- Lolo Jones...what can I say? The race was hers. Everyone knows she is the fastest hurdler in the world right now. She just didn't execute.
- The same goes for Sanya Richards. She lost her race straight up. The winning time was one she should have been able to run. She didn't. Honestly, in the case of Richards and Jones, it could end up being a good thing. But we won't know that for years.
- I didn't get to see the women's 800 meters. Not even one round. (I think it was another case of Japan wanting to interview a bronze medal swimmer or something.) So I've still never seen Pamela Jelimo run. But a new junior world record of 1:54.87 is smoking, and I'm sure we'll be seeing a lot more of her. One big question, though: Can she take down a drug-enhanced 800m world record? (And yes, I assume most current women's world records were drug-enhanced, from 100m to 10,000m--and I just hope the new steeple and 5k records weren't.)
- Back to that men's 1500 meter race. Nick Willis took the bronze. Who'd have thought Nick Willis would become more successful on the Olympic stage than Kevin Sullivan? Both graduated from the University of Michigan, and Sullivan's best place is, I believe, 5th. See Alan Webb, you should have stayed in school! (Or run for a country that isn't quite so deep.) I'm just saying.
- I read that Catherine Ndereba thought she was in first when she entered the stadium, and only then realized she would be racing for silver. She said of the race, "I thought I was in the lead and only when we got to the stadium I saw her and was a bit surprised but it was too late to do anything. If I'd seen her earlier, definitely I would have pushed." That was a direct result of her sitting back farther than necessary for the first 3/4 of the race. Aka, she should have executed a better race plan.
- Last but not least, Anthony Famiglietti ended up 13th in the race, after leading at the half-way point. I didn't get to see it, unfortunately. In any case, while I disagree with some of Fam's approach to training--like his diet--he has been a breath of fresh air in a sport that is really quite corporate. He's one guy who puts himself out there, not just his best effort. He's becoming one of my favorites.