In early August, Usain Bolt put his feet in the blocks for his final 100 meter sprint event. The weight of his perfectly muscled body resting on the tips of his fingers and his toes, every fiber ready to fire and capable of doing so faster than any other person on the planet. His head down, looking at the track as he had done so many times before, this would be his last image of it. The last ten seconds he would spend at this speed, this exasperation of energy, for the rest of his life.
Set in his starting blocks, the fans surrounding him, holding their breath, dreaming of a fairytale ending for their hero and one final win to go out on top.
The pop of the starting gun rang out and Bolt’s body took off as it has done hundreds of thousands of times before: when he set a world record, when he won Olympic Gold and World Championships again and again and again.
This was the exclamation point at the end of his career.
Or so he thought.
Songbird took to the track Saturday in the G1 Personal Ensign, poised as the heavy favorite. A horse who could seemingly do no wrong in this short four horse field with a Hall of Fame jockey along for the ride, this was a shoe in.
Except it wasn’t.
As quickly as the race was run, the amateur experts were abounding on Twitter, opinions flying faster than the flutter of one’s heart before a big race. The headlines started rolling out just as quick:
“Songbird’s wings clipped….”
It was deja vu. Didn’t we just hear all this when Arrogate lost? When Lady Aurelia was bested by a nostril? When California Chrome faded in his last out? And countless times before, in between, and since?
It seems that just as quickly as a race has been run, fans become trainers, jockeys, veterinarians, and experts in all things racehorse – and far too quickly we, the jury, rule. The questions start of injury, retirement, age, track conditions, human error, jockey choice, and any other factor that could be to blame.
In a flurry of questions and accusations, the integrity of the horse gets lost in it’s cross examination; Songbird stops being one of the greatest mares we have ever witnessed and Mike Smith stops being one of the greatest jockeys of all times.
The truth is, the headlines are all wrong, the judgement is wrong; you can take the crown, but never the throne, of a queen who has already successfully ruled. Songbird will always be one of the best and she will never be grounded because one loss, or two, or three or even a dozen does not make her wins obsolete. Her unbelievable career of 15 races – 13 wins and 2 second place finishes – can never be tarnished… even if she lost every single race she had left. Just as Zenyatta’s legacy will never be lost nor California Chrome’s career questioned, the greatest horses in time are great despite the epic losses they all share.
When Songbird’s career is long over, her bones in the earth, and her name multiple generations back in the pedigrees, she will still be remembered for her wins – not her losses – because, as her jockey once told me, “in our moments when we shine, we are all the greatest.”
In early August, Usain Bolt finished the final 100m race of his career in less than 10 seconds. He finished not as everyone had hoped and he wasn’t injured, he wasn’t tired, he wasn’t unfit or too old; he just wasn’t the best – that day.
He finished third to a young up and coming rival and his longtime competitor, Justin Gatlin. Gatlin has five Olympic Medals on the heels of Bolt. But this time – this time he finished in Gold.
As reality set in that Gatlin had bested Bolt in his final competition, he did the one thing he believed fitting in that moment. As Bolt turned to congratulate the victor, Gatlin fell to one knee, head lowered and arms outstretched as he bowed to the one he defeated in homage: “I’ve had many races with Usain and he has helped me learn how to be a better athlete, how to be a stronger man and I have nothing but the utmost respect for him,” Gatlin said.
At the end of the day, although Usain Bolt lost that race, he walked away from the sport one of the greatest the world had ever seen. When people look back at his career, that loss will not be the greatest memory they have. He changed the sport forever, creating a platform for others to come, paving the way for the future of the sport and the fans and his competition stood in awe and respect of Bolt moments after he lost his race.
Horse racing fans could take note; it is not in their losses that great racehorses are defined, but in their moments of triumph that they make their mark.
And nothing can take that away.
Agree…? You’d probably agree with this also: