We need note that Hayes 10.6 second world record time in the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics is now mediocre and has been eclipsed by scores of runners. The first seven finishers in the London Summer Olympics all bested Hayes 1964 100 meter record with the winning mark by Usain St. Leo Bolt (defending his gold medal from the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics) at 9.63 seconds (new Olympic record) even to the seventh place finisher at 9.98 seconds.
When I saw Usain Bolt demolish his competition in both the 100 and 200 meter dash (an all Jamaican show) I felt the spirit of Bob Hayes tugging at me and then disappointment which turned to annoyance when Bolt put on his usual victory histrionics and his now famous “To Di World” pose (above). I personally think it undignified and not in keeping with the Olympic Spirit, a sentiment shared by International Olympic Committee (IOC) Chief Jacques Rogge who accused Bolt of “showboating” and “lacking respect” when he first pointed at the sky in 2008. An unflappable Bolt has continued to celebrate his many victories with the same gesture which is now being copied around the world by the likes of Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson (one of Bolt’s sponsors), Prince Harry and many others. The International Track and Field Federation came around to his dramatics even to the sponsorship of a contest to see who can do the “bolt” – the best? OK…
This post was initially intended as a Bolt Roast of the first order. I had all my knives sharpened and word guns loaded ready for a Bolt evisceration. Something happened to change all that, however, and was proof again that you can’t judge a book by its cover, however superficially nauseating it may appear. So, what changed my opinion?
While, no doubt, Bolt is consummately full of himself and as one sports blogger put it, “flamboyant, brash and cocky” and lacking any real humility, he is still the best at what he does – perhaps even the best, ever at least until the “next great” comes along. Even as I was composing my Bolt Rant, Bolt’s recent interview by a TV reporter with the Spanish news network, TVE, was being run on NBC. The reporter either ignored or wasn't aware that the American national anthem was about to begin for America’s Sanya Richards-Ross who had just won the gold medal for her victory in the women’s 400 meters. When Bolt realized that the American Anthem was about to be played, he tried to put off the reporter who still tried to continue her interview. Bolt took control, indicating they were going to pause for a moment, turned around and with respect honored Richards-Ross’ victory and the US National Anthem. The ceremony completed, Bolt turned back around and finished the interview. What a show of class! That’s what turned me around. Then we start checking around and then learned of Bolt’s considerable charitable activities… Defused I was left with nothing better to do than compare Bolt with my hero Bullet Bob Hayes. So here we go…
We are not original in our effort to compare Bolt with Hayes noting at least two other folks in the blogosphere who recently pondered the same question - what would be the outcome of a race between Bullet Bob Hayes in his prime in 1964 and Lightning Bolt on the 100 meter track in 2012?
Let’s ponder physical statistics. Bob Hayes was about 5’ 11” in height and weighed a little over 190 lbs. Like Bolt he was a strong and muscular figure of a man, just smaller. Though we have not seen his personal measurements we have made a calculated guess that his inseam was around 30 inches. Bolt is 6’ 5” in height and weighs somewhere between 190 and 210 pounds and at this time. We have seen estimates on his inseam anywhere from 36 to 40 inches, or more.
Let’s go a little further. Bob Hayes, in his 1964 Tokyo dash ran 48 strides (some say 47.50 strides). Bolt ran 41 strides in the 100 meters in London so it may all come down to the physics of flexibility and stride length and angle. Bolt’s Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake took 46 steps in that same 100 meter race claiming silver with his 9.75 seconds dash. Do the math.
Many tall athletes, however muscular, have great difficulty in the sprints and Bolt, contrary to Hayes and Blake can be slow coming out of the blocks. But, once he builds up his steam and gets everything going in the same direction, well, we have seen the results…
Aside from the distinctive physical differences between the two athletes there were other factors that separate these two great athletes. First of all, the track back in Hayes time was made of cinder which was a coarse, porous surface and as in Bullet Bob’s 1964 Olympic race, his lane had already been chewed up by a 20k race walk the day before. That surface is patently inferior to today’s scientifically crafted synthetic surfaces designed to optimize athletic performance. The new tracks give a predictable extra “bounce” to the runners which they use to their advantage. Most folks who have raced on both cinder and on synthetic all-weather tracks report much improved times on the synthetic tracks. Ironically, the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics were the last to use a cinder track.
Hayes was also running with borrowed spikes. Both those aspects are significant not even considering today’s modern and highly efficient training procedures and an entourage that includes nutritionists, sports scientists, support staff and groupies - all epidemic in modern sports. Bob Hayes was also an amateur in the true sense of the sport while Bolt has been a professional (Puma, Virgin, Visa, et al.) since 2004 earning millions of dollars, Euros, pounds, etc.
Yes, they are apples and oranges and like the old Ruth and Aaron debates they occupied different eras with whole different paradigms. We really can’t logically compare the two though I will surmise the results of a head to head meeting of the two.
Anyone who watched Bolt’s Olympic qualifying trials up to the finals of the 100m knows that he cruised to easy victories in all races, only exerting himself as required. Indeed, his winning time in the Olympics at 9.63 seconds may be an Olympic record but it’s not the World Record. Bolt holds that distinction by running a 9.57 second 100m in Berlin in 2009.
Retired American sprinter Michael Johnson with four gold medals to his credit believes Bolt can improve on his 100 meters world record of 9.58 to 9.4 seconds. We think so too but note he is going to have to clean up his technique, stop his showboating and find someone who can push him to that level.
As for a head-to-head with Hayes? We think that Bolt who is consummately concerned with his “living legend” (his words) status would finally have the motivation to best Hayes who sports authorities speculate may have had a 9.7 in him. In a world where differences are now measured in the thousandths of a second it may have all come down to heart though the physics and math and a “finally” inspired Bolt would have his shot at ultimate celebrity – at least until the next phenom arrives on the scene.
Some say that Bolt – if he has those soft hands and the will to play American football – might be an NFL prospect. But before Jerry Jones gets out his checkbook he needs to ask himself if he wants an already historically ego-plagued Cowboy franchise cursed with a personality that makes TO look like a rank amateur. We are also assured that the only football that Bolt would want to play would be for his favorite team, Manchester United who has apparently offered him a trial.
God bless Bob Hayes and Usain Bolt and allow Bolt some genuine humility. He may just develop that if he tries to play football…