How Can Usain Bolt Be Clean? He’s the Lebron James and Babe Ruth of Track and Field
The Case Bolt Could be Clean: He’s A Tall Freak Who Was A Child Prodigy
by Robert Johnson, inspired by Chris Lear.
July 17, 2013
When you operate a website for a living, you don’t work normal hours. Staying up to 2-3 am isn’t unusual as newspapers often update at 12 midnight and a lot of meets end late. Starting your work day at 10 am (or later) isn’t either.
So I’ll admit it, it was close to 10 o’clock and I hadn’t started working.
This morning, while I was reading the newspaper around 9:45, I got a call from my good friend, Chris Lear, author of Running With the Buffaloes.
He said, “Hey I just saw LetsRun, I can tell you how Usain Bolt can be clean and beating all those dopers.”
Since I hadn’t updated the website last night, I wasn’t sure what he was talking about. I pulled up the homepage and realized Lear had read our quote of the day today which asked how could Usain Bolt be beating all of these doped up sprinters if he himself was clean. Here is the quote we featured in case you haven’t seen it.
“So what are we supposed to believe? Are we supposed to believe a lone clean sprinter can beat lanes of dirty ones despite years of anecdotal evidence that the drugs provide an insurmountable boost? Are we supposed to believe a guy from a country with a suspect anti-doping agency (international authorities have repeatedly bemoaned the lack of oversight) is playing by the rules just because?”
“[BALCO’s Victor] Conte and his merry doping band filled American Tim Montgomery with a pharmacy full of banned drugs, and a guy who struggled for most of his career to crack 10 seconds suddenly ran 9.78 and broke the world record. Now we’re supposed to believe a guy can go 9.58 clean?”
“We want to. Admitting otherwise is to concede that we were suckered, that we spent enormous amounts of emotional capital – the exhilaration, the fascination, the inspiration– on a sporting fraud. That we were duped by doping, again. That fool me twice, shame on me. There’s another reason: We want to believe there aren’t limits to unenhanced human performance because to think otherwise, in a way, represents a sober confirmation of our mortality. We turn to sports to escape the boundaries of our mundane lives, not reflect them.”
– U-T San Diego writer Mark Zeigler asking the question, if everyone else is dirty, how can Usain Bolt be so much better and do it clean? He points out that of the 10 men who have gone under 9.80 seconds in the 100, 8 of them have been linked to doping.
Now that I knew what Chris was talking about, I let him continue. He continued along the lines of, “I can tell you how Bolt could be clean. He’s a tall freak. The guy is a giant who was a phenom the first time he ever set foot on a track.”
I 100% agree.
While I certainly understand why people think along the lines of Mark Zeigler, I also think you’re not insane to think Usain Bolt very well could be clean. In fact, I actually do.
Here’s my argument.
Usain Bolt Is A Tall Freak
I did a little bit of research.
Here are the heights of the US sprinters who have all run 9.85 or faster – the top 21 times in US history – and all of whom have had some sort of doping questions.
Tyson Gay 5′ 10″
Tim Montgomery 5’10”
Maurice Greene 5’9″
Justin Gatlin 6’1″
Mike Rodgers 5’9″
Bolt is 6’5″. He just almost a different species than all of those guys, particularly if you remove Gatlin as he’s 7 inches taller than all of them.
Usain Bolt is huge but has the coordination and quickness of sprinters who are normally much smaller. Of course, that’s a huge advantage.
Here’s question for you.
Do you think LeBron James is dirty?
Because, in my mind, Bolt is just the LeBron James of track and field.
What makes LeBron James so special in basketball? Well basically, he’s tall and built like a
truck power forward, 6’8 and 250 lbs, but somehow has point guard skills. If Lebron, were 6’1 and 190, he’d be a very good all-star but far from receiving accolades form some as the GOAT (greatest of all time): MB: Help me settle an argument with my buddy: How good would LeBron James be if he was 6’1 instead of 6’8?
The same thing is true for Bolt.
(For the record, yes I did start that messageboard thread under a fake name. I do occasionally
‘troll’ the boards start threads to get people’s honest opinions instead of having them be biased from seeing it come from my name)
The Babe Ruth Comparison
Ok, maybe you aren’t a basketball fan so you didn’t really follow the NBA analogy. Well here’s another one for you from baseball.
Why can’t it be possible that there are just guys at a given era who are WAY better than everyone else? Just total freaks.
Babe Ruth certainly was one back in the day in baseball.
Many people don’t seem to realize this stat about Ruth. When Ruth set the all-time season home record back in 1920 with 54 dingers, go ahead and guess what the all-time record was before he hit 54.
What’s your guess?
The answer is 24.
And in the American league it was just 16.
So Ruth was more than three times more productive than any other American League slugger in history. If steroids existed, everyone in major league baseball in 1920 could easily have been on them and they wouldn’t have come close to touching Ruth.
Usain Bolt – A Child Prodigy
Ok, maybe you aren’t a baseball fan and still aren’t convinced that Bolt is clean.
And please realize, I’m not trying to get you to 100% believe Bolt is clean but I just want you to believe that he could possibly be clean. He certainly doesn’t have to be dirty just because he’s beating other dopers.
So here’s another attempt to beat you over the head with logic.
Who is the greatest professional golfer in the last 10 years?
Who is the greatest professional basketball player in the last 10 years?
I could go on and on with examples from other sports (the Williams sisters in tennis pop into my head as well).
What do they have in common?
They both were childhood prodigies.
Everyone knew Woods was going to be a star long before he ever turned professional. Everyone knew LeBron James was a sell your children, I’ve got to get that guy type of talent before he was even drafted.
There are Number #1 picks (Andrew Bogut) and then are Number #1 picks which are virtually certain to elevate a franchise (LeBron, Shaquille, Ewing, etc). That’s true not just in the NBA, but seemingly in all sports (Stephen Strasburg in the MLB).
Bolt was as close to a “Bet the franchise, we’ve got to get him” #1 pick that has ever existed in men’s sprinting.
It drives me nuts that some people falsely think Bolt came out of nowhere and rapidly improved. That’s one of the most dishonest charges ever made.
The “Oh he improved so rapidly it’s suspicious” argument gained mainstream exposure when Carl Lewis said the following in 2009:
“I think it’s interesting how in our sport, in our times, how someone can make that sort of dramatic change. But for someone who ran 10.00 seconds and now they are talking they can run 9.4 seconds the next year, it just boggles the mind.”
Carl Lewis was certainly one of the greatest track and field athletes in history but he had zero idea what he was talking about, and the sad fact is there are few knowledgeable track and field people left in journalism these days, so there was no-one to stop the talking heads that show up nowadays on ESPN and talk radio from repeating the totally untrue charge of Lewis.
Proof That Bolt Was The Ultimate Prodigy
Yes, Usain rapidly improved at the 100 meters (he went from 10.03 in 2007 to 9.69 in 2008) but only because he started out as a 200/400 guy. He was so freakishly tall – I believe he was already his current 6’5 at age 15 (email me if that’s not true, I read that in an article) – that it took a little bit of time for him to develop the strength/coordination for him to harness that in the 100.
He didn’t even really run the 100 as he was a superstar at 200.
In 2002 at age 15, Usain Bolt ran 20.58 for 200 and became the youngest World Junior gold medallist in history.
He was so good at age 15 that after he won the World Junior 200 title, former 100 world record holder and Olympic gold medallist Donova Bailey, a man who actually knew what he was talking about in regard to Bolt, said the following at the time:
“He could be running on the Grand Prix circuit today and the kid is just 15. He is so powerful, it is unbelievable the potential that he has.”
At age 16, Bolt improved to a world junior record of 20.13 in the 200 and also ran 45.35 for 400. Think about what those times mean.
You could have put Bolt in college at age 16 (high school sophomore) and he’d be one of the very best, if not the best. He’d be challenging if not winning the NCAA title in the 200 at age 16 and would be a first team All-American in the 400 (20.13 would have placed 2nd in the 2013 NCAA championships and 45.35 would have been 5th in the 400).
That’s a freaky LeBron James level of accomplishment at age 16. Remember, LeBron averaged 21 points a game as a freshman in high school and by his sophomore year some of his games had to be moved to the University of Dayton to accommodate the crowds.
At age 17, Bolt defended his world junior crown at 200 and ran 19.93 that year. At age 17, James was on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Bolt then stagnated a bit, running 19.99 at 18 in 2005 (although he did make his first World Championship pro final that year) before improving to 19.88 in 2006 and 19.75 in 2007, before becoming a legend in 2008 at 19.30 and 9.69.
Maybe you are a more visual learner? Then watch the video I found on youtube which I believe is of Bolt running 19.93 at age 17.
Watching that made me feel like it was just unfair to make the other competitors even try to race Bolt. It’s what you’d get if you filmed a horse racing humans.
If you haven’t read Zeigler’s column, please do so as it’s well written and asks legitimate questions (nothing wrong with that). Zeigler asks:
So what are we supposed to believe? Are we supposed to believe a lone clean sprinter can beat lanes of dirty ones despite years of anecdotal evidence that the drugs provide an insurmountable boost?…
(Victor) Conte and his merry doping band filled American Tim Montgomery with a pharmacy full of banned drugs, and a guy who struggled for most of his career to crack 10 seconds suddenly ran 9.78 and broke the world record. Now we’re supposed to believe a guy can go 9.58 clean?
My answer is yes. Babe Ruth’s accomplishments defied logic at the time, why can’t Bolt’s?
Again, Bolt ran 19.93 at age 17. Is it unreasonable for someone to improve by .74 (down to 19.19) over the next five plus seasons by the time they are 23 (Bolt’s birthday is early August so as he started competing later in the year, he turned a year older mid-season)?
Not at all. There are a ton of college seniors graduating each year who improve by that much over the span of 4-5 years in the 200 at that age (Here’s one, another one, another one just from this year’s college 200 list) and no one assumes they are on drugs..
And one could say Bolt might be more likely to improve than most, given the fact that he super tall and likely going to improve in coordination as he get used to his height.
So call me crazy but I think there are many legitimate reasons for one to believe that Usain Bolt very well could be clean and I’m one of the biggest anti-doper crusaders out there.
Back when I ran a lot, my friends and I liked to play a game. We always threw out the hypothetical of someone coming up to you and saying, “You die if you are wrong, is person XXX clean or dirty?”
If given a life or death choice with Bolt, I’d say “clean.”
I certainly know one thing. I wouldn’t say “dirty” without thinking about it all as I did for many other people in the past long before they ever tested positive (Regina Jacobs anyone?) or even if they ended their career with no positives.
There are a lot of other runners currently on the circuit, even distance runners that I’d name as being much more likely to be on drugs than Bolt.
You don’t have to 100% agree with me that he’s clean, that’s not my goal. I just want you to think that there certainly is ‘reasonable doubt’ as to whether Bolt is dirty. As a result, he deserves the benefit of doubt.
More: Agree or Disagree? Email Robert or post your comment on the message board discussion of this topic: Rojo and Usain Bolt.
*Mark Zeigler: Tyson Gay tests positive, and our faith
*MB: Help me settle an argument with my buddy: How good would LeBron James be if he was 6’1 instead of 6’8?
*LRC Archive From 2012: Bolt’s not on drugs, he’s always been great (with videos when he was young)
*LRC Archive 2012: If Tyson Gay was taller, could he beat Usain Bolt?
*LRC Archive 2012: Bolt takes 41 steps vs everyone else’s 44…
PS. I’m adding this about 5 minutes after putting this first up. The Lance Armstrong analogy doesn’t apply here. In the Tour de France, it’s a huge disadvantage to be way bigger than everyone else as you are too heavy to get up the mountains. In track and basketball, it’s a huge advantage.