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BEIJING 2008 / COMMENTARY

Bolt yams it up for crowd

August 21, 2008|Mike Downey | Chicago Tribune

BEIJING — Ding Dong must love this.

And so must Overmars, Johnny Bravo, Mundo, Chicken and Bear, Pree Dam, Strength and Sir Yummy.

They are the Jamaicans who taught Usain Bolt his footwork.

It is a dance called the "Nuh Linga," which was done by Bolt in front of the whole world Wednesday night. He wiped out the world record in the 200 meters on the eve of his 22nd birthday and it was party time.

Jamaican whoopee.

This time he did no jive during the race -- Bolt ran hard from start to finish -- but he sure did get funky on both ends.

"He danced for us before the race and he danced for us after the race," said Shawn Crawford of the U.S., who through a weird stroke of luck wound up in second place.

"Him and athletics, they are just like Michael Phelps and swimming."

Athletics is the Olympic word for track and field. And this sport's answer to the amphibious Phelps is an islander with thunder in his right shoe and lightning in his left -- Bolt, the king of Kingston, the pride of the Caribbean.

Who choreographed his steps?

Ding Dong did. A dance troupe back home called the Ravers Clavers came up with a cool shimmy that Bolt likes so much, he does it before and after every race he runs.

The group's leader is Ding Dong (real name Kemar Ottey), a former DJ, and the Nuh Linga's creator is Overmars (real name Marlon Hardy).

Bolt was grooving in Lane 5's starting blocks in his gold Pumas, which have reported wild worldwide sales since the 100-meter record fell here Saturday.

Then he quit the dance and did the dash.

He covered 200 meters in an uncanny 19.30 seconds. He erased a Michael Johnson record (19.32) that some believed would stand for a hundred years, not a dozen.

And he made it look easy.

"Did that look easy?" Bolt asked, grinning from ear to ear. "No, that wasn't easy."

He made everybody else look slow, much the way Phelps did in a pool.

"I felt like I was swimming," Bolt said, pretending to do a little dog paddle. "I just kept telling myself, 'Don't die! Don't die!' "

Mainly, he made this run -- in fact, all of his runs -- look like fun.

Nobody was having a better time at the Bird's Nest than U-Bolt, who kissed the track, stuck his face into a TV lens to shout "I am No. 1!" and then again struck his trademark Apollo archer pose.

He hammed it up. He was the life of the party, less than an hour before midnight and his birthday.

His mother, Jennifer, was on hand. She was the one who told the Daily Gleaner newspaper in Jamaica how Usain has always liked to "clown around."

His father, Wellesley, also was there. He caught a plane after Saturday's 100 race, not long after telling a reporter that the key to Usain's speed was his lifelong appetite for yams.

Yams? Yeah, yams.

Look for sweet potato sales to soar like Bolt's shoe sales have.

He was like Popeye with spinach. The old gold-shoed record holder, Johnson, said before the race that Bolt's 9.69 in the 100 was "the most impressive feat I've seen in my life," but he saw some even more impressive feet after that.

Bolt rewrote the books. He beat the swiftest runners in the world by remarkable margins.

One of them, sixth-place finisher Kip Collins, said with amazement, "I have to take two strides for every one he takes."

Asked if he could view Bolt's race as not just a competitor but a fan, Collins said, "I'm not a fan, but oh my God!"

What made Bolt this fast? Maybe God did, or maybe something man made did.

Drugs? Let's hope not.

Yams? Don't rule them out.

"It must be the food," fifth-place Christian Malcolm from Britain said. "I like yams. I'll eat more yams if it'll make me run like that."

He can come to Bolt's birthday party.

Plenty to eat there, plus a chance to dance.

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