We live in hyperbolic times. Things are no longer “cool’’ or “neat.” We blew by “awesome’’ a long time ago. So ’90s. We now live in “epic’’ times, and I often wonder just how much higher the verbiage can float.
Once you’ve gone epic, seems to me there’s little room left for advancement, no higher “up” to attain.
In retrospect, I guess Abe Lincoln went all kinds of “epic.’’ Pity he had to settle for “Honest Abe.’’ Moses handed over the Ten Commandments. What could possibly be more epic? Poor guy, he’s left with just his one name and that cracked tablet of expectation, morality, guidance, guilt. “Holy Moses!’’ really isn’t reverential.
Usain Bolt is a legend. A living legend. He told us so last week, used those very words, after tearing across London so fast that I swore at one point he was that Fidelity green line of financial prosperity — a computer-generated blur striped across the Olympic Stadium track at warp seed.
Not much gives me goose bumps anymore. My GP explained why, but like most everything she tells me now, I forgot it 12-15 minutes after she took my blood pressure.
Each of Bolt’s dashes was so exciting that I nearly broke out in hives.
But faster than I could blurt out, “Have you ever seen anything like that?!’’ there was Bolt, boasting of his “legend’’ stuff, adding that he is “the greatest athlete to live.’’ Buzz. Killed.
I know. Different times. Got that. We is what we is and we ain’t afraid to tell the world all about it. Walk the walk, talk the talk. If you race the race, then yep, spicing the stew with a dash of chest-beating and a dollop of “Hey, who’s better than moi?!’’ is the way to cook it.
Not for me. In the book, “Legends For Dummies,’’ Chapter One begins, “If you are a legend, and actually tell people you are a legend, you’ve been un-legended.’’ There is no Chapter Two. Remember, it’s for dummies.
Brian Regan, the comedian, does a great riff on heroes, easily found on YouTube. It’s based on Captain Sully (pilot Chesley Sullenberger) ditching US Airways Flight No. 1549 into the Hudson River in January 2009, its engines crippled upon striking a flock of Canada geese soon after it took off from LaGuardia.
In epic (there it is!) fashion, Sullenberger delicately floated the plane like a snowflake onto the water, where it stayed afloat, his actions saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew on board.
Forget epic. That was miraculous, Moses-like, the Hudson appearing almost to part.
“He’s a hero,’’ jokes Regan, “but he’s not allowed to think he’s a hero. That’s one of the rules about heroes. They have to ask you if you think you’re a hero — and you have to say NO!’’
No one had to ask Usain St. Leo Bolt. He was so enthralled with what he did, so self-absorbed and assured, he spared anyone having to ask where he felt he stood on the subject of track-and-field greatness. Legend. Pretty simple.
To which I say, it’s time for Bolt to get himself a laptop and Google “Jesse Owens, 1936, Berlin,’’ then report directly back to the medal stand. Dignity in all things. When things are great. And even when they hurt.
Seventy-six years later, the world remembers Owens not so much for the medals he won, but for the dignity and grace he displayed when the whole world watched how he was snubbed by Germany’s maniacal Fuhrer.
Truth is, there was far more horror and evil in Adolf Hitler than most everyone knew, or dared to admit, but in those moments, Owens remained himself, and that is what we remember of him, his essence.
There are legendary performances and then there are legends. Performances speak for themselves, and true legends are supposed to know that. Being a legend is really more about who you are and what you are than what it is you’ve done.
Jesse Owens, legend. Arnold Palmer, legend. Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, legends. Rocket Richard, legend. Johnny Unitas, legend. The 1980 Team USA hockey squad? Legend. Bill Russell and Michael Jordan? Of course. Murderers Row, legends. Satchel Paige, legend. Our own Johnny Kelley, legend.
There are more, many more, and time gone by is a critical factor. For the most part, legends don’t pop up overnight. Of those mentioned in the above paragraph, Team USA’s gold medal at Lake Placid is the only instant legend.
And what a contrast, the image of an ecstatic Mike Eruzione beckoning his teammates to the medal stand as if to celebrate a street hockey championship, versus the chiseled Bolt striking his rehearsed Adonis poses after his every triumph.
Give me the pathos of Eruzione over the packaging of Bolt. Truth in athleticizing.
Nothing says more than saying less. We learned that in this town over the years from the likes of Jim Lonborg, Russell, Bobby Orr, Gino Cappelletti, Rocky Marciano, Bob Cousy, Milt Schmidt, Pat Bradley, Joan Benoit, Bill Rodgers, Kelley and many more who, in the words of Kipling, met with both Triumph and Disaster and treated those two imposters just the same.
Bolt’s braggadocio added nothing to his unique, fabulous moment. He became the only man ever to win at 100 meters and 200 meters in back-to-back Olympics, dubbed the “double-double,” as if ordered at a fast-food counter.
His performances were brilliant, a marvel of athleticism and an astounding celebration of the human body, his lines so precise, so sculpted, as if created by Michelangelo’s hand. With each victory, Bolt painted a picture that said a thousand words. He need not add one more.
None of Bolt’s legendary deeds will fade. His astounding acts of 2008 and 2012 will stand forever, even if one day someone faster comes to Olympus and scores, say, a triple-triple. He may one day be a legend, but that’s really for time to tell and for everyone else to decide.