In an article by Simon Turnbull for The Independent, Usain Bolt’s manager, Ricky Simms, explains why his most famous client and Yohan Blake will not race against each other anymore this year. This is ground that has been covered before, but the key point made in the article was the emphasis that the decision was not financially motivated. Setting aside the fact that when athletes or entertainers say it’s not about the money, it’s usually about the money, let’s look at the individual reasons that Simms offers in the article:
“Athletics is a different sport,” Simms told The Independent. “It’s not like boxing. You have to train all year to peak on a certain day and that’s what these guys are aiming for. You can’t peak on 15 May and 15 June and 15 July and 15 August. It doesn’t work like that.”
Correct, athletics is a different sport, but if we wait for everyone to be in optimal shape, we will be waiting for Godot. It would be great for athletes to be constantly at their peak, but nobody expects this and I think most fans wouldn’t even want it. People run fast before their peak and plenty of people run fast after their peak.
I understand that the priority of Ricky Simms is Usain Bolt and he has no motivation to expose his client to losses or to look out for anything beyond the Bolt brand. This whole argument is the by-product of having a sport with no central leadership, but explain again why can’t they get into shape by racing against each other? Or, after their peak, why can’t they continue?
”It makes the major championships even more valuable. That’s why the Olympics is so special. If we do this every week it will devalue the big day.”
Of all of the arguments, this is the one that is most absurdly backward. People would tune out the Olympics because the athletes have competed against one another too much? The names would be so recognizable that viewers would change the channel? As a sport, track and field is nowhere near the position to turn down rivalries for fear of over exposure. Name a thriving individual sport and I will show you one where the sport’s biggest names compete against one another frequently.
Although Simms may not acknowledge it, racing Blake prior to the games enhanced Bolt’s wins in London. His losses at the Jamaican trials added a storyline, introduced the world to his new (affable) antagonist and allowed Bolt to put his fingers over his lips and “shhhh” the doubters after beating Blake in the 200.
”It’s not a question of money. It’s just a question of physically what the guys need to do to run 9.5sec or 19.3sec.”
Simply put, nobody is expecting them to run 9.5 or 19.3 seconds every time they line up. As is almost always the case in track and field, the competition is far more interesting than the time.
”The thing is they put so much energy into the Olympic Games. The times were exceptional in the 100 and the 200. I think Tyson Gay summed it up best. He said, ‘These guys have to dig so deep to run those very fast times. If they did it every week there would be arms and legs falling off. They would be getting injured all the time.”
But they are still racing, just not each other. Sure, Bolt has an easier time when Blake is not in the race, but Blake has run hard in his meets in Lausanne and Zurich. He ran the fastest time in his life in the 100 less than two weeks after the Olympics, and somehow his legs and arms are still attached.
”The Olympics was the most important thing for them. There’s no real motivation for them to race against each other now. Usain won two gold medals, three with the relay, so he’s pretty happy with where he is.”
Fantastic, I’m happy for him. We are all happy for him. However, consider this, by virtue of their respective byes (Bolt has one for the 200, Blake has one for the 100) for the 2013 World Championships, Bolt and Blake don’t need to race each other at the Jamaican trials next year. If they really wanted to, they could go from the London Olympics to the Moscow World Championships, without lining up in the same race. The next year, 2014, is a non-championship year where the best meets are the Diamond League races, and many athletes cut their season short.
If you are Usain Bolt, this is fine. Your legacy is secured, your celebrity is worldwide and you have basically nothing to gain. What about Blake though? You made your name by beating Bolt and without many opportunities to do so in the next two years, how do you jump ahead of him?
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. All of these questions about peaking, injuries and motivation probably go right out the window if the dollar figure was right. Even Blake, who would benefit the most from more head-to-head match-ups, said in the article:
“I’d love to race against him but you’d have to talk big money.”
At least that is a reason we can wrap our heads around.