i am not now of the sporting milieu, nor indeed have i ever been. running the school cross country circuit was merely a long-winded way of avoiding having to participate in anything potentially more strenuous in the school p.e. hall. unaccompanied by any teaching staff, i could sit on a strategically placed log until the second part of the loop could be adjudged appropriately timeous to reach school just too late to join in anything already underway.
i'd be fully justified in asserting that i could barely run the length of myself, something that could be seen as at least a slight disadvantage when it comes to cyclocross. or at least it would do if the competitive edge were needed.
but it isn't.
running is certainly an activity that seems to have become surprisingly more front and centre for several of my friends in london town, seemingly as a result of their more serious involvement in the seasonal art of cyclocross. almost disappointingly, what i would view as an ancillary procedure seems to have overtaken the parent and lets face it, more superlative sport. it seems churlish to criticise, but i don't quite get it; the bicycle bears all of the weight while doubling as a pragmatic form of transport.
running sort of doesn't.
but as with many a sporting activity, there are gradations of effort and specialisation, a factor taken to its ultimate conclusion in track and field where it is apparently possible to carve a career running as short a distance as 100 metres. that's the sort of measurement few of us would take the bike from the shed to ride. but jamaican born usain bolt not only succeeds with repetitive ease over such a distance, he has brought the discipline into the homes of even the athletically agnostic via his bonhomie, good humour and often extrovert behaviour. and by all accounts, he's making a perfectly decent living in the process.
however, the statistic paraded on the back cover of richard moore's latest publication the bolt supremacy pays tribute to the salient fact that of the ten fastest 100 metre times in history, eight of them are held by jamaicans. in the bolt supremacy moore sets out to discover whether there are any specific and discoverable reasons for this being the case. is it due to unique training methods, could it be in the genes, or could it be the unmentionable as perfected by a certain texan cyclist?
bolt is quite obviously the poster boy not only for the 100 metres competition, but for his country. not since the days of bob marley has a sole individual encapsulated the hopes and dreams of the jamaican nation. "He's beautiful to watch... His stride, I mean, it's poetry in motion. [...] He's like a gazelle.
in characteristic fashion, moore leaves no stone unturned. it is not only his remarkably compulsive writing style that endears itself to the reader, but the feeling that he has not only asked every question that any of us could think of, but several others we'd scarcely have concocted on our own. additionally, the jamaican coaching scene seems a tad convoluted, operated by a series of individuals almost at odds with each other's methods, offering inscrutability as its watchword.
in the early days of cycle racing, becoming a professional cyclist often meant an escape from the drudgery of the factory, the farm or some other ultimately dead-end, yet onerous means of employment. the success of bolt has only accelerated a similar desire in the schoolkids of jamaica. "All these kids, the good ones, are recruited by their high schools... They understand that track and field can be their way out. And they're really easy to coach."
it's one of many possibilities for the continued jamaican successes explored by moore. 321 pages would advertise that the author has not skimped on his investigations. some may be perceived as slightly overwrought, but are saved from becoming impenetrable by his skill as a writer. but does it all come down to drugs?
several jamaican athletes have tested positive, but rarely for anything that would be considered serious by cycling's often despicable standings. the overall impression gained from reading about several tenuous but apparently successful training methods would reel with incredulity if it were subsequently proven a systematic doping scam were in place. with no disrespect intended towards jamaican athletics, they just don't seem capable. but then if such a system did exist, isn't that just what they'd want us to think?
in the final chapter, moore asks coach dennis johnson why he thinks his country produces so many top sprinters. johnson turns the tables on moore. "You have been travelling around, speaking to people. Why do you think we have these sprinters in Jamaica?". there is indeed a purported answer to this success, one that the author perhaps realises and one with which johnson agrees. it would be iniquitous of me to reveal that here, but if you decide to forsake the world of cycling during the road season's downtime, the bolt supremacy offers food for thought, an insight into a sport that quite plainly isn't cycling and a narrative that occasionally rivals the finest crime writing.
and it all takes place in jamaica, so a couple of marley albums on the ipod while reading will only add to the drama and enjoyment.
tuesday 20 october 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................