Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt has done it again – smashing the field at the 2009 World Athletics Championships and setting an astonishing world record of 9.58 seconds for the 100 metre sprint. After his stunning performance at the Olympic Games in 2008, there is no doubt that Bolt is the best sprinter in the world today….and arguably of all time.
What makes the story fascinating is that Bolt was never supposed to be a sprinter. Apart from the fact that he always dreamed of playing cricket for the West Indies and only came to running later in his youth, conventional wisdom is that the fastest sprinters are shorter and stockier athletes – those who can get up and running quickly. Short distance sprinting is widely understood as a race of acceleration and coaches were were grooming him as a 400 metre runner to take advantage of his stride length.
Bolt has single-handedly re-shaped the sport. He isn’t the quickest out of the blocks and often trails his rivals to the 40 metre mark. Once he gets his 6’5″ frame upright and to top speed however, he has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to run past, and then away from his competitors.
I find it compelling to watch a man do what he is supposed not to be capable of doing – to see someone challenge convention and re-write understanding. All that, and he’s spectacular entertainment.
Many years ago in a letter to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote of God’s tendency to do the same….to use the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, the weak to shame the strong, the things that are not to nullify the things that are. Now I’m not saying Bolt is foolish or weak, but his achievements remind us to put less weight on convention and expectations, and just get on with our mission, calling or purpose. God will take care of the rest.