Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Great Expectations

Clever types sometimes debate the theory of 'hedonic adaptation', which claims that after experiencing changes for the better or worse in our circumstances, we swiftly adapt to them and our levels of happiness and relative expectation revert quickly back to 'normal'.

56k dial-up internet access from my desktop was once greeted with euphoria – oh the possibilities of this new world! – now I'm ready to throw my laptop out the window if I can't connect wirelessly to superfast broadband in Starbucks. Actually, it's ridiculous in this day and age that I even need to find a wireless connection - why can't I get online via a 3G signal...

I was reminded of this at the end of last week following Usain Bolt's 100m win at the Diamond League event in Rome. Yes, he won, but unfortunately he 'only' managed to do so in a time of 9.91 seconds. Never mind that 9.91s is a time fewer than 25 people have achieved in history at any stage in their careers, let alone in their first race of a post-injury comeback season: by his standards – as we now perceive them to be – he was dawdling.

Poor bloke. The weight of expectation that rests upon his shoulders every time he runs is immense, although of course he only has himself to blame. That is the price to pay for being the person who stormed into our consciousness in the summers of '08 and '09, of being the guy who shattered our perceptions of what was humanly possible or what could be reasonably expected over 100m. Only five people have every run under 9.8 seconds, yet to the general public anything outside of this now seems pedestrian. Victories and fast times alone are not enough – they have become normal. Once again we demand something fresh, something that will leave us mesmerised and gaping at our screens in disbelief. Heightened expectation there most certainly is.

I'd like to believe that Bolt is still the man to meet those expectations, although we may have to wait until the World Championships in Daegu later this summer to see the real fireworks. Lining up there will be a number of pretenders to his throne, most likely including Tyson Gay – the one person you feel genuinely believes in himself that he can usurp Bolt – and Yohan Blake, whose name has not yet been heard too far outside of athletics circles but is certainly shaping up as one to watch. Perhaps just as mesmerising as a Bolt who streaks away from his rivals to rewrite the record books will be a Bolt who needs to dig deep to prevail against a blisteringly fast, competitive field. Or maybe he will just blow the field away again. Only time will tell.

He races again tonight in Ostrava – don’t expect fireworks in the Czech Republic, but you may just see the fuse being lit on what could be an enthralling season over athletics' premier event.

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