Bolt, Gay To Vie For 'Fastest Man' Title The IAAF World Championships in track and field take place in Berlin this weekend. The marquee matchup is in the men's 100 and 200 meter races, where Jamaica's Usain Bolt and American Tyson Gay will continue their battle for the title of "World's Fastest Man."
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Bolt, Gay To Vie For 'Fastest Man' Title

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Bolt, Gay To Vie For 'Fastest Man' Title

Bolt, Gay To Vie For 'Fastest Man' Title

Bolt, Gay To Vie For 'Fastest Man' Title

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/111899487/111899469" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The IAAF World Championships in track and field take place in Berlin this weekend. The marquee matchup is in the men's 100 and 200 meter races, where Jamaica's Usain Bolt and American Tyson Gay will continue their battle for the title of "World's Fastest Man."

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The Michael Vick story may be dominating the sports news today, but it's also a busy weekend for actual competition. And that includes a showdown in Berlin between the world's two fastest men. Our regular sports commentator Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays. Hi, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hey.

BRAND: Okay. So before we get to those really, really fast guys, let's talk a little bit more about Michael Vick. And you actually spent some time inside the NFL. How big a risk do you think the Eagles are taking here?

FATSIS: Well, I think there are three things we need to think about: on the field, off the field and money. That $1.6 million salary that we just heard about may seem excessive for a convicted felon who hasn't played in two years, but it's below the NFL average, and Vick likely won't get that much because players are paid on a pro-rated weekly basis in the NFL. But it's much more than the minimum salary for a player with Vick's experience, which is $620,000. So clearly, there was competition for his services.

Now, on the football side, Philly already has a veteran starting quarterback. So if the team plays well, there won't be calls for Vick to start. And the belief is he'll be used in some sort of hybrid running/passing role. But Philadelphia didn't even give Vick a workout before it signed him. His body needs to acclimate again to the constant physical pounding and regain the timing you need to play this sport well.

BRAND: And we just heard in Mike's piece that fan who wants to burn her Eagles gear. Is the risk, then, that the Eagles are just taking too big a risk off the field?

FATSIS: Yeah, will all of this become a distraction? Are fans going to buy less or burn more merchandise? Will sponsors cancel contracts? How loud will the absolutely appropriate debate on the moral and ethical implications of allowing Michael Vick to play football again grow? We are in uncharted territory here. There are arguably no other examples of a high-profile team sport athlete returning after a long prison stay. And teams and star players represent cities, and Philadelphia is not known for its quiet and tolerant fan base.

BRAND: Right. So, could this then be a disaster?

FATSIS: Well, you know, the NFL is pretty adept at crises management and control, and I'm sure that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell carefully screened Vick's possible destinations. The Eagles have a stable and respected front office, a veteran head coach, a competitive team. Vick won't have to be the star here. The Eagles roll him out slowly, insist that he stay quiet and humble and hope that the focus fades away. And if it doesn't go well, it's the NFL. Contracts aren't guaranteed. Players can be released at any moment.

BRAND: Okay. Let's go to our other topic: the track and field championships begin tomorrow in Berlin, and the event we've talking about is the 100-meter dash. It's on Sunday. Tell us about it.

FATSIS: Well, you've got fun-loving, word-record-holder Usain Bolt of Jamaica, and you've got the quieter, workman-like Tyson Gay of the United States. Gay is the defending world champion, but he failed to make the finals at the Beijing Olympics last year and Bolt stole the show with a record run of 9.69 seconds. This year, Gay has been the faster man. He said he expects it'll take a new world record to win on Sunday, perhaps breaking 9.6 seconds.

BRAND: Breaking 9.6 seconds. Put that in some context. How much faster is the fastest human running these days?

FATSIS: Well, the 10-second barrier was first broken in 1968. And since 1983, the record has been equaled or broken a total of 18 times. That is way more than in other events. There have been advances in training, track surfaces, shoes, the composition of running outfits, and you can run this race frequently. So there are more times to break the record. So how much faster can a human go? Well, you might remember that Bolt celebrating before hitting the finish line in Beijing. And afterward, a physicist calculated that if Bolt had kept churning all the way to the end, he would have run 9.55. So if we accept that, it's taken 40 years to shave half a second off of the record. Right now, it doesn't seem possible that the unenhanced human body could shave off another half second. But maybe we should talk again in another 40 years, Madeleine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRAND: If we're still talking then. Okay. Stefan Fatsis is the author of "A Few Seconds of Panic: A Sportswriter Plays in the NFL." He joins us on Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. Thanks, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Madeleine.

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