Orville Higgins | Forming the ass over 'Donkey Man'
No matter how bright the average sports fan is, he loses all sense of reason when he is discussing sports. Very few of us can separate ourselves from our emotions.
Take the case of Javon Francis. Javon ran 43.52 on his split in the 4x400m in the World Championships last year. He was roundly criticised for his method of going out too fast and then 'dying' in the final stretch. It was said to be a poor run, and the fact that he finished fourth when, at one stage he was leading, made the criticism even harsher. Jamaica finished fourth and Javon was largely blamed. Lest we forget, his split was the fastest in the race!
This year, 'Donkey Man' helped the Jamaicans to win a silver medal. This time, he didn't go out as hard. He conserved at the start and came home stronger. His split was 43.78. He actually ran slower at the Olympics than at the World Championships. This time, though, he didn't get the baton as far behind. The quality of the people in front of him weren't as good, and his teammates actually did better collectively than last year. All of these factors, not Javon's leg, per se, is what contributed to our silver medal.
This time, though, Donkey Man is being praised for running a better race. Of course, it's nonsense. He himself has made utterances that he thought he ran better at the Olympics. He is wrong.
You can't run a better race in the 400m by running slower, but the fact that he got silver now, while he was fourth then, has blinded too many of us to the straight truth. In the sprints (and the 400 is a sprint), better times mean better runs. In the longer distances, it may not be so straight-forward. In longer distances, people can affect how others run, and therefore, sometimes tactics and strategies do come into the picture when we are discussing 'better'. In short distances, though, it's about pinning your ears back and going for the tape. Tactics are non-existent and the better race was simply the faster race.
PERFORMANCES IN PERSPECTIVE
Donkey Man actually ran better at the World Championship last year. He escapes cussing because we won, and I understand that. Like everybody else, when I cheer on the Jamaicans, medals are far more preferable than times; but when we come to assess and analyse, we should be able to put performances into perspective. To say he ran a better race at the Olympics is ludicrous. Even when the numbers are presented, people are still arguing against the obvious.
Take the case of Elaine Thompson. Elaine ran 21.66 for second at last year's World Championships. She was beaten by the impressive Dafne Schippers, who ran a blinding 21.63. This year, Elaine won the 200 at the Olympics in 21.78, with Schippers coming home 0.13 second later.
If you were to go with the irrationality of most sports-loving people, Elaine ran a better 200 at this year's Olympics than she did at the Worlds. It is simply not true. Her 21.66 was a better race, but she was just beaten by one of the all-time great 200m performances by a woman.
In the sprints, it is time, not placement, that determines the quality of a performance. Kim Collins ran a pedestrian 10.07 to win the 100m at the World Championships in 2003. Tyson Gay ran 9.71 to finish behind Bolt's astounding world-record run of 9.58. Going by the logic of many of my friends and colleagues, if you compare the two, Kim Collins had run a better race than Tyson because he won, while Gay didn't! That, of course, is just plain nonsense.
The mistake Javon made was in getting our hopes up last year that we would have medalled. Our criticism of him was because he lifted our expectations by dashing past the three who were in front of him before running out of steam.
This year we weren't disappointed. The medal satisfied us and has now clouded our ability to reason. The plain truth, though, is that he ran better at the World Championships than he did at the Olympics.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.