We’re talking track
Interesting question I saw posted on another site recently, and I’m curious about how others feel about this; I am rephrasing the question slightly, but the gist is as follows:

Is Usain Bolt the biggest star ever in track and field? The two names mentioned in the original question as comparisons were FloJo and Carl Lewis.

Personally, I don’t think either of those athletes were even close in popularity to Bolt-yes times have changed and with the internet, media overload, etc., athletes/stars have a bigger audience than ever before. That aside, Carl Lewis was never very popular with fans or his peers. I thought he was phenomenal and prior to Bolt the best sprinter I had ever seen, but popular? No.

Ditto FloJo; I don’t think she was at her peak long enough to really catch on, her outfits and extravagant nails aside.

The only track stars I think who were even close to Bolt in terms of popularity were Marion Jones (below L) and Michael Johnson (below R). Marion was a huge star in high-school; stopped competing in college to play basketball and then she came back to the sport as a professional. She won and she did it (while cheating, as we know now) with a charm that made the press gravitate to her.

Michael Johnson likewise was somewhat friendly, press savvy and popular. Both transcended the sport in a way few have and made themselves and the sport very popular. None of these runners have approached the global appeal of Bolt.

Bolt has single handedly brought track and field back into mainstream consciousness and made the sport relevant to the casual fan again. He is a once in a generation talent that is possibly ahead of his time. The only thing missing for him is a foil. I think if a real rival to him ever steps up (and particularly if that rival is American to ratchet up the media interest,) not only will he go faster than anyone ever has or thought possible, I think track will again become the marquee sport in the US and the world that it once was.

Asafa Powell is making a claim to be that rival; today he ran a world leading 9.83 seconds to win the 100 meters in Ostrava. “The man who could have been” is the only athlete I see being capable of testing Bolt, but his biggest problem has always been between his ears. If he ever gets it together, the competition between the two would be something amazing to witness.

To everyone in Kingston, stay safe, be careful and let’s hope we come out these trying times better as a nation. Changes have to be made and now is as good as time as any.

Oh yeah, 14 days to South Africa 2010.