There are some true stars in our sport, Haile Gebrselassie, Usain Bolt, Yelena Isinbayeva, Liu Xiang, Jeremy Wariner, Allyson Felix, Kenenisa Bekele, Tirunseh Dibaba and Meseret Defar. to name a few. At the Super Star level, Mr. G, Mr. Bekele, Ms. Isinbayeva and of course, Mr. Bolt come to mind. Today I will concentrate on Mr. Bolt, Ms. Isinbayeva and Mr. Bekele. Mr. G will get his due again in about a month, at -real,Berlin.
Usain Bolt, the man of lightning
Usain Bolt is a three gold medal winner on the world's biggest sports stage, and a stage with the most pressure. His rounds in the 100 meters just warmed him up and his 100 meter race, which I have watched several dozen times, is staggering. His 9.69 merely suggests how fast he can run. His 19.30 over 200 meters was the best race of his ten days in Beijing, as he ran the second hundred meters in 9.3! He " ran his heart out" in the 200 meters. His relay run was a very fast third leg, which blew the race wide open for the Jamaicans, who set a new world record of 37.10!
Bolt is entertaining to watch. His antics after the hundred meters were not done to show disrespect, it was the move of a young man who had just realized the amazing feat he had accomplished! He showed his grit in the 200 meters and ran well on the relay! Did you watch him with Wallace Spearmon, Jr? The other athletes like him too, which is a big indication of how the young man comports himself. PUMA, his main sponsor, is getting their money's worth with Bolt.
Since Beijing, Bolt has been on TV, on You Tube, showing those golden shoes, and running a fast 100 meters and a sixth 200 meters under 20 seconds in one season! Bolt is the kid who finally gets the urge to train, finds a splendid coach, in Coach Glenn Mills, and stays healthy. I still believe his best event may be the 400 meters, and if Coach Mills can get him on that train, I see three world records in the sprints for Jamaica! Oh, and there is a 9.58 in those legs if he can stay healthy.
Kenenisa Bekele, the doubler
Last spring, when Nike's John Capriotti told me that Bekele was running the 10,000 meters at Prefontaine, I was very excited. Watching the man pound out 63-64 second 400 meter laps, by himself on Hayward Field was mind altering. Kenenisa Bekele is a distance warrior. Running 26:21 by himself, Bekele showed he could do it. His 10,000 meter and 5,000 meter world records are phenomenal, and his leg speed, 3:31 over 1,500 meters, shows his amazing leg speed.
Beijing was a tough double. Running the 10,000 meters, Bekele ran a 4:05 last 1,600 meters to take the win, but it can down to a nifty last 200 meters to put the pretenders to rest. Bekele floats when he runs. He is focused and has no extra motion in any of his stride. He races to win, and everyone knows it around him. From his countrymen, Sihine and Gebrselassie, to Kenyans Micah Kogo and Moses Masai, no quarter is given and none is expected.
The 5,000 meters was my favorite race in Beijing. He not only took the kick out of the kickers, but he just annihilated the field. Five laps to go and he drops a 60.8, then a 60.7, then a 60.8, then a 60.1. Only Kipchoge and Soi are there and then, he runs a 53.1 and by the time he comes off the final turn, he has broken daylight on Kipchoge, and has five seconds to spare at the finish!
Last winter, in Birmingham, England, I watched Bekele run two miles in 8:04. His second mile was in 4:01 and he just hummed around the track, running 30.5 for each lap on the Mondo track. He ran like a man possessed. He has a need to win, a need to set records. A very private man, Bekele allows his feet to speak for him. Bekele is one of Nike's top global athletes, and the mere mention of his name at an event guarantees a strong crowd and an anticipated extraordinary performance.
Bekele, whether it be cross country, indoor or outdoor, revels in the high level of competition. His rare defeats show his humanity, and give the rest of the world the consolation that one day, Kenenisa Bekele will finish second or third. But, not for awhile....
Yelena Isinbayeva, Vault Goddess
Yelena Isinbayeva is one of the toughest athletes in our sport. That adidas counts her as one of their icons is an understatement. Possessing tremendous physical skills, a fantastic competitive focus, and never say quit attitude, Isinbayeva dominates her event like no one else in our sport since she won her first junior title in 1999. She won her first global medal in 2003 in Paris, when she took the World Outdoor bronze medal.
Consider this for a moment: Usain Bolt is worshipped for his two world records and three gold medals. Consider that Isinbayeva is on her 24th world record in the pole vault. That the IAAF chose Isinbayeva to be the cover athlete for the first issue of Spike, a new magazine project in the UK to promote athletics and the countdown to 2012 was a wise move. She is a global icon. In Beijing, the applause for Isinbayeva, when she was introduced before the pole vault final, was thunderous.
Moving to a new coach, Vitaly Petrov, former coach of Sergey Bubka, two years ago took a lot of guts. She completely changed her technique and her run up lengthened. In the two years since that change, she won the World Championships and had a perfect season in 2007. While she had one loss in 2008, her consecutive wins stopped at 34, Isinbayeva has set a world record before Beijing, and while at Beijng, broke both the Olympic and World records. Her global standard is now at 5.05 meters.
Isinbayeva is photogenic, knows she is an entertainer in the global sports arena and she gives sports fans their money's worth. Her strength, built from the age of five as a former gymnast, her flawless technique honed hour after hour with Vitaly Petrov, a man acknowledged as one of the top pole vault technicians in the world, and her soaring athleticism make Yelena Isinbayeva one of the stars a global meet must have to gain attention in this star driven sport.
The other day, we were discussing Pat Butcher's columns on what makes a classy athlete and one know one when one sees on. Well, using Mr. Butcher's standards, and mine, all three athletes above show the class and cultivation, in their own ways of world class sports entertainers.
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