Orlando, Fla. The news keeps getting worse for anyone who lists their occupation as “world-class sprinter.” It’s a lonely profession, like going to an office filled with cramped cubicles, while the boss smokes Coronas in the penthouse suite and orders Dom Perignon for lunch.
It is Usain Bolt’s world. Everybody else is just a spectator, or a slowpoke seeing the soles of Bolt’s shoes as he burns another hole in a 100-meters world record.
Fret not, kids. We are here to offer hope and help.
Get your pen and pencil ready. We’re going to the grocery store.
Bananas, yams, dumplings and porridge. It’s the stuff of champions.
I’ve got inside sources.
“Bolt is a good man, trust me,” Virginia Taylor said. “He’s young and good. But he don’t eat the food that the Americans eat. He eats bananas, yams, dumplings, porridge. He’s a real bush-country boy so he will always be strong.”
Taylor works at the Caribbean Sunshine Bakery in Orlando.
Taylor, who came from Jamaica to Orlando six years ago, is among the faithful who have embraced Bolt as their immortal beloved. There are posters of him on the walls of the bakery and in adjacent shops in Orlando’s Jamaican community. A T-shirt in Music City has a picture of President Obama and Bolt that reads “World’s Greatest.”
They are true believers. They see a kid who grew up in Sherwood Content village in the hilly fields of Jamaica.
But there are others, including some prominent faces in track and field, who do not believe.
An asterisk always seems to dangle around athletic greatness these days.
Sign of the times. Chicanery and chemicals are a volatile mix, blood brothers in an era fueled by performance-enhancing cocktails.
The cheaters have made life rough for everybody. The assumption is everybody is jacked up on something, dismissing the possibility that it’s a natural high.
Bolt’s performance Sunday in Berlin conjures up those wonderful possibilities of inexplicable feats of nature, as well as the seedy stuff. He annihilated his own world record in the 100 meters. It was a man vs. boys deal. At 6-foot-5, Bolt towered above every competitor at the starting line. He then made them look even smaller by breezing by everybody and tilting his neck slightly to see if Tyson Gay was anywhere around. Nope. Bolt ran 9.58, breaking his own world record by 0.11 seconds.
But no great feat goes unpunished these days.
Bolt has never tested positive for anything other than greatness. But suspicions persist. People wonder.
“When people ask me about Bolt, I say he could be the greatest athlete of all time,” former Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis said last year. “But for someone to run 10.03 one year and 9.69 the next, if you don’t question that in a sport that has the reputation it has right now, you’re a fool. Period.”
So here we are, caught in emotional crosshairs. People want to believe. But we’ve been fooled too many times. So we embrace greatness, from afar.
“It would be totally awesome if he’s doing it on raw natural power without any substance abuse,” said Derrick Baxter, a customer at the Orlando bakery. “That’s what I’m hoping for.”
Me, too. Like Virginia, I’m thinking it would be awesome if mere mortals can fly on bananas, yams, dumpling and porridge.