Bolt Defends, U.S. Men's Basketball Team In Action

Jamaican Usain Bolt won the men's 100-meter sprint at a record time of 9.63 seconds Sunday. Bolt won the event four years ago in Beijing. The U.S. men's basketball team will meet Argentina Monday.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Jamaica's Usain Bolt ran the 100 meters in 9.63 seconds last night. That is an Olympic record. It will take just a bit more than 9.63 seconds to talk about what it means. And NPR's Mike Pesca, the Usain Bolt of sports reporters, is on the line. Mike, good morning.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Yes. If you saw me in person, you'd know how untrue that was.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: Well, Usain Bolt said he was only 95 percent healthy when he ran this race. What does that mean - to be 95 percent healthy?

PESCA: What does it mean? I think beforehand, people took him at his word. OK, maybe he's not all there. He did lose in the qualifiers in Jamaica - you know, the Jamaican championships. No, here's - in retrospect - what it all means, and why we should appreciate Usain Bolt more for just - more than being one of the greatest athletes on the face of the earth: The man is a showman. He has a sense of drama. And it was clear that he waited until the big stage, to bring his best.

In every heat, he kind of eased up at the end. He knew he had it won. He didn't have to go as hard as he did. And he built it and he built it. And the anticipation was there. Some experts were saying maybe Yohan Blake will win the gold. Sports Illustrated said Yohan Blake will win the gold. They do a great job, but here was Bolt. He came out of the blue. And this man understands branding, you know. He does the lightning bolt. He does the arrow symbol before the race. All the other racers give a little symbol. That's all Usain Bolt. And he's bringing so much attention to a sport that sometimes, in the United States, doesn't get it. He's kind of a genius on a couple levels.

INSKEEP: Well, even you referred to a bolt out of the blue there, Mike. So you're right onboard.

PESCA: I couldn't help it. Yeah.

INSKEEP: So what's the other news in track and field?

PESCA: Well, you know, yesterday, Sanya Richards-Ross won the 400 gold medal. DeeDee Trotter came in third with the bronze. Unfortunately for the United States, in the men's version of that race - which goes today - no man will compete. LaShawn Merritt injured himself. It's the first time, other than when the U.S. boycotted in '80, that they won't have a man in the 400. They've won a medal every year since 1920.

But the United States and America - and I'll get to - I'll explain why there - it's a little different - have two medal contenders in the 400 meter hurdles. Tinsley - Michael Tinsley, he's a medal contender. But the strong favorite is Javier Culson. And he's from Puerto Rico. They compete under their own flag in the Olympics. They've never won a gold medal. He could win it.

INSKEEP: Hmm. We've got just a little more than 9.63 seconds left here. Let's talk about a couple of other sports, while we have a chance here. The U.S. men's basketball team; saw them defeat Nigeria by more than 80 points. And then I was looking at my screen over the weekend, and they barely won against Lithuania? What happened there? And what happens, now, against Argentina?

PESCA: Well, Argentina's a good team. OK, Lithuania and Argentina are both legitimate teams. And they will play harder than Nigeria. But I think it's not so much the U.S. men's team. It's their opponents. The Nigerians came in ready to be blown out. And they were blown out. And teams show that if you play hard and put together a good game plan, you can at least hang in it with the United States. Argentina has Manu Ginobili. They have legitimate players. It will be a closer game. I should point out that, you know, Lithuania lost by 20-something to Argentina. So if Lithuania almost beats the United States, maybe this Argentina game will be a nail-biter. Guess what? Probably not.

INSKEEP: Oh, well, you never know. You never know. What about women's boxing? You're also following that.

PESCA: Yeah. Started - this is the first-ever year with women's boxing. The first bout was last night. The first American has gone down, but two Americans still remain in the field; Clarissa Shields boxes, as does Marlen Esparza.

INSKEEP: You know, you got it down to the finish line with several seconds left, Mike. Well done.

PESCA: OK. I'm doing my pose.

(LAUGHTER)

INSKEEP: I don't want to see that. That's NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca, in London.

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