American sprinter James Gatlin, who’s just coming off a doping-induced ban, talks about competing with the fastest man in the world.
Interviewer: Is Usain Bolt unbeatable?
Gatlin: It’s like you watching for weaknesses of your opponents in a game like football or basketball. You watch them for what great athletes they are and study them. Watching Bolt perform great feats is awe-inspiring and breathtaking. But he is still human and breathes the same air I breathe and takes the same two steps that I take to get to the line. Just going out there with confidence and giving it everything to get from this line to that line is what I’m working on.
Gatlin highlights a point that’s true across many sports. Sustained brilliance by a sportsperson (think Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Usain Bolt) always begins with an era of awe-inspiring performances that catapult them to the top (I call this “Phase 1 of domination”) followed by an extended period where their opponents stop trying (they’ve been bludgeoned into submission psychologically) – I call this “Phase 2 of domination”. Eventually, a few competitors start internalizing on “if HE can do it, why can’t I?” which leads to the most interesting “Phase 3 of domination” — a phase whose duration depends both on the incumbent champion’s mettle and the quality of the challengers.