Usain Bolt is the rarest of commodities: A foreign athlete that Americans actually care about. We are, by nature, a Manifest Destiny kind of people. We are predestined to move atop the hierarchy of this world, get out of our way. We care about us, athletically, culturally, and politically. In sports, who can blame us? We invent (baseball, football, basketball), we don’t borrow (soccer), and most of the world’s best leagues reside here.
The soccer culture clash is the definition of this attitude. We’re not the best country at it, we didn’t create it, and the best league isn’t here. So for some it’s not a meaningful sport. Of course, to a generation of fans with modern technology who can now watch the best (EPL, La Liga, Serie A) as easily as they can watch our best (NBA, NFL, MLB) it doesn’t much matter where it was developed and how good we are at it.
But largely we’re not fascinated by other country’s exports unless it affects our teams. Yao Ming and Ichiro and Rory McIlroy matter because they had to come here to play for the big stuff. And the global sports world centering around our inherent greatness has been on display yet again in these Olympics. Swimming? We have the best of all-time in Michael Phelps. Gymnastics? Perhaps on her way to GOAT status in Simone Biles (and dominance by Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas and Laurie Hernandez). Basketball? Psh. Stay within 30 points of Team USA (men or women) in the medal round, we’ll give you a fist bump.
The medal tote board always has the red, white and blue at the top. We’re nearly doubling the next highest gold total of China. Our women swept all three medals in the 100m hurdles. So why should we care much about anyone else?
But Bolt breaks all that ethnocentrism to smithereens. We are drawn to his greatness and his personality like moths to a lamp post. How is this guy that fast? And why is he that happy? We are accustomed to our athletes being guarded, focused, peering through ultra-competitive tunnel vision. We place Michael and Kobe and Brady at the top of our summit. All ooze that glaring intensity. I am only here to crush you. Americans love being the aggressors (it’s how we became the World’s superpower). We honor those that pillage and plunder and cannot be stopped. Al Davis once uttered, “They said you had to take what the defense gave you. No, we are going to take what we want.”
Bolt is nothing like that. He see this is as just fun and games (which of course it is). He dances at the starting block, snaps selfies with fans along the track, smiles and playfully trash talks while he’s running. This is not exactly Mike Singeletary’s wide eyes or Nolan Ryan’s cowboy attitude. Maybe this is because Bolt’s only competition is against himself. No one is in the same stratosphere. If we are homosapiens, he seems to be a supersapien. Bigger, longer, stronger, faster, better than everyone else that runs for a living on the planet.
Bolt’s charisma is part of his charm. His dominance is the most important, though. The Jamaican Sensation has no peer. He has all of the fastest times ever on record in the 100m (9.58), and the 200m (19.19). He blew away the field in the ’08 and ’12 Olympics, and toyed with the competition this year in Rio. He made us root against our own runner, Justin Gatlin. Yes, Gatlin has a history of PEDs, but I believe Americans would still cheer on Bolt to win. He’s likeable and dominant and seemingly clean. We love witnessing history and Bolt has delivered that to us for eight years and counting.
He is the rarest of all athletic commodities, the non-American we fall in love with that doesn’t compete for our teams or on our soil. His athletic excellence is admired, while his child-like enthusiasm is appreciated. As unlikely as it seems, his world records may one day fall. His legacy here in the U.S. (and the rest of the globe) almost assuredly never will.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.