Usain Bolt Just Swept Through His Second Olympics. Here's What He Could Do for an Encore.
Usain Bolt exited the London Games in a familiar position: alone, in first place, basking in the glory of an audience that can’t believe what it had just seen. Pressed by Ryan Bailey and the rest of the United States’ 4-by-100 relay team, the now six-time gold medalist ran all the way through the line on Saturday night, a rare all-out effort that pushed Jamaica to a new world record of 36.84 seconds. The Americans finished in 37.04, a mark that tied the old record while still leaving them to inhale Bolt’s fumes.
Add together his six Olympic finals, and the world’s fastest man covered 800 meters in a little more than 75 seconds. (Match that, David Rudisha.) Never before has a single athlete made such a powerful impression in so little time. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss the rest of his career. Most likely, the 25-year-old Jamaican will be at the height of his powers for just three more grand occasions: the 2013 track and field world championships in Moscow, the 2015 world championships back in Beijing’s National Stadium, and the 2016 Olympics in Rio. After that, he’ll be gone, a blur in yellow, green, and black that the next generation of sprinters will chase but never catch.
In Beijing and London, Bolt rose to the occasion every time he stepped on to the track. The shame of his career is that the occasion doesn’t often rise to meet his superhuman level. The 6-foot-5 sprinter, taller by a head than the supposed speedsters he never fails to leave behind, is a man before his time. He’s also a man in search of another planet. The people of earth circa 2012 are no competition for Usain Bolt, which means he is always competing against some combination of himself and the clock. The best we can hope for, as was the case on Saturday, is that whoever comes in second entices the showman to run his hardest before he starts preening for the crowd.
This year, the also-rans—Bolt’s training partner Yohan Blake, and the USA’s Bailey, Justin Gatlin, and Tyson Gay—got a little faster, but they’re still not nearly fast enough. Unless Blake, his closest rival, gets a lot better very soon, Bolt will spend his remaining time on the track in a race against boredom. If Bolt stays interested, we’ll marvel as he continues to stretch the boundaries of human ability. But will there be any reason for a man who holds every record he’s ever chased to keep on sprinting through the tape?
One enticing possibility is that Bolt could return to his roots and start training for the 400 meters. Michael Johnson’s world record in the event, 43.18 seconds, has stood since 1999. It could use a Bolt-sized push into the 21st century. And how about the long jump? Mike Powell has said that Bolt could break his record if he deigned to try—that “he could jump so far that it will be crazy.”
Shifting his attention to new events could detract from Bolt’s sprinting. But continuing to run the same races he’s already mastered might not serve him any better. When a kid is too advanced for the rest of the class, you skip him to the next grade. But for Bolt, there is no next grade. As a selfish sports-watching populace, we need to hope that Bolt decides to build himself a new school. If he picks up the 400 or the long jump or both, the Jamaican legend will have to push himself to become the best in the world. And when Usain Bolt pushes himself, we see things that we’ve never seen before.
Team USA Wins Women's Basketball Gold, Again. America Yawns and Flips to Wrestling, Again.
In an outcome that surprised no one, the U.S. women’s basketball team won its fifth straight gold on Saturday, beating France by 36 points. In an Olympics filled with dominant athletes, the U.S. women can play rock, paper, scissors with the Chinese table tennis team to figure out who was the best of the best. In the qualifying rounds, Team USA beat their opponents by a combined 183 points; the next highest point differential was 37. They played one close game in the entire Olympics, against Australia, and it wasn’t even that close: They won by 13.
The U.S. has won seven of the 10 gold medals ever awarded in women’s basketball and has lost one Olympic game in the past 30 years. And yet, few people seem to care. As Yahoo’s Les Carpenter wrote, “the U.S. women's basketball team will stand on the podium, as it has done for the past four Olympics, watch its flag rise, and wonder why dominance doesn't matter in a basketball country in love with winning.” Some, including coach Geno Auriemma, think it’s because Team USA is too good—that their dominance dissuades people from watching. But that doesn’t make any sense. Sports fans love dominant performances. If people didn’t like to watch athletes who were too good for their own good, then they’d pay no attention to Usain Bolt.
Let’s not over-analyze this: It’s not that Team USA is too dominant, it’s just that women’s basketball isn’t popular. Regular-season WNBA attendance has steadily declined since 1998, the league’s second year in existence. In 2011, the 11 WNBA games broadcast on ESPN2 averaged 270,000 viewers, slightly less than the year’s lowest rated network TV program, the CW’s L.A. Complex.
I’d bet that most people could only name a couple of active women’s basketball players. The most famous player on Team USA, Candace Parker, occasionally makes headlines when she dunks in a game. But almost every player in the NBA can dunk a basketball—even the bad ones, like Brian Scalabrine. I’ve dunked a basketball before, and I’m horrible at basketball.
This is why, even though professional women’s soccer has had a rocky history in the United States, the future looks brighter for Alex Morgan and co. than for Parker and her teammates. Women’s soccer doesn’t look substantially different from the men’s version. But as the Olympics have shown, there is an unbridgeable chasm between men’s and women’s hoops.
The American men have run up the score in London and they’ve done it with panache. Kevin Durant, LeBron James, et al., have shot 53 percent from the field in seven games while making 45 percent of their three pointers, an impressive shooting display befitting the best team in the world. The women, by contrast, shot under 50 percent from the field in six of their eight wins. And from behind the three-point line, Team USA shot a not-so-impressive 30 percent. In the end, they destroyed the competition and didn’t look all that amazing doing it.
“I'm sure if we were to lose a game we would become way more famous than we are now,” said Auriemma before today’s gold medal match. But it seems more likely that, if Team USA lost a game, they’d remain what they are today: a very good team that not that many people care to watch.
NBC Mocks Racewalkers by Playing Benny Hill Theme
Before the Olympics started, I wrote a post suggesting that NBC play “Yakety Sax” during all the running events. Today, I’m proud to say that the network finally took my advice. Upon the conclusion of the women’s 20-kilometer racewalk, NBC Sports Network sped up the fast-walkin’ footage Benny Hill-style, showing the athletes bobbing and wiggling their way to the finish line. (The peacock did not, however, insert footage of Bob Costas chasing after the racers and pinching their butts.) Studio hosts Willie Geist and Liam McHugh then proceeded to mock the sport, saying they wished Al “Do You Believe in Miracles?” Michaels had been on hand to call Russian Elena Lashmanova’s dramatic, world-record-setting walk past countrywoman Olga Kaniskina.
Racewalking is easy to make fun of. Take, for example, this Snickers commercial, in which Mr. T berates an effeminate speedwalker—“You’re a disgrace to the man race! It’s time to run like a real man!”—and then tries to kill him by shooting him with a machine gun. (The machine gun is loaded with Snickers bars, not bullets.)
Despite the fact that the sport is often the butt of jokes, it was still surprising to hear Geist talk mock-excitedly about “racewalking fever.” A quick glance at Twitter shows that approximately one person was offended by the network’s behavior. “Can't believe the disrespect toward Olympic Race-Walking on @NBCSN by Willie Geist & Liam McHugh. #London2012 #notokay @NBCSports,” wrote Bradley Sines.
I get that perspective, but in the end I stand with Geist. It’s the tail end of the Olympics, nobody’s watching anyway, race walking is funny to look at, and he didn’t go for any easy, Mr. T-esque, homophobic jibes. Besides, they actually took my advice and played “Yakety Sax.” My work here is done!
The Camera They’re Using to Show Synchronized Swimming Is an Amazing Tech Innovation
Synchronized swimming has never looked so good. As I watched the Russians crush the competition, I also marveled at NBC’s split-screen shots, which simultaneously showed the swimmers’ torsos above water and their legs below it. This perspective came courtesy of the Twinscam, which was invented by Japanese broadcaster NHK in 2010. It’s a solution to a common problem in the Olympic water events: Because of the way light refracts and reflects differently above and below water, we’ve only been able to see shots that show one point of view at a time. The heavy image processing needed for a camera that could do both has also made live broadcasting impossible until very recently.
The Twinscam tricks the viewer by using two cameras, one above the water and one below. The camera then combines the feeds from each to make it look like one shot. As the Russians approached technical perfection, the Twinscam’s separate lenses were doing their own synchronized dance, zooming and sweeping right along with them and sending a combined feed to an international audience. The result was stunning; Instead of switching back and forth, we saw what these athletes were doing below the water to support and create the show above.
There’s a long tradition of the Olympics driving technological development. We can count color television, high definition, and 3-D among the advances that were tested early on at the Olympic Games. Innovation goes in the other direction, too: Reuters photographers covering the London Olympics got their underwater robotic camera heads from a German engineer who designs components like the one that showed us just how much oil was spurting into the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
I can imagine Twinscam having a future in everything from nature documentaries to military surveillance. But even if it’s just used for synchronized swimming, it’s still given us an unprecedented opportunity to appreciate the beauty of a graceful sport. The awesome DiveCam, seen below, hasn’t been deployed in many non-diving situations since its debut in 1996.
And its cousin, the SkyCam, is basically the reason the NFL arguably looks better on the TV than it does in real life. The inventor of DiveCam and SkyCam, Garrett Brown, is better known for his first big invention: the Steadicam, which you can thank for the smooth, terror-inducing shots in The Shining. Perhaps Twinscam will get some cinema love of its own. Jaws 5, anyone?
What's That Tape Every Olympian Wears? Should It Be Banned?
If you’ve been watching the Olympics, you’ve surely noticed all the strips of colored tape plastered to athletes’ bodies. The media sure has: In the past two weeks, Reuters, the Atlantic, ABC News, and Fox (among others) have all reported on the colored tape, which is sold by a company called Kinesio. According to the product's website, the tape is designed to “facilitate the body’s natural healing process while allowing support and stability to muscles and joints without restricting the body’s range of motion.”
The press has questioned this claim, and rightly so. Studies of the tape’s efficacy suggest that there’s no proof that this particular tape is any better than any other kind of tape. But this doesn’t mean athletes shouldn’t use it, especially if they believe that it works—and many, judging by the number wearing it at the Olympics, do. The placebo effect—the idea that medically inert substances that people believe to have a beneficial effect can, in fact, have a beneficial effect—is a well-documented phenomenon. And in sports, studies suggest that placebo effects improve performance.
In one 2006 study, for instance, experienced cyclists were told that they would either receive a placebo or caffeine before a 10-kilometer time trial. In reality, all the athletes got a placebo, but when they thought they’d been given caffeine they pedaled harder—and the more caffeine they were told they were administered the harder they pedaled. “When I thought I was on the 9 mg of caffeine I went faster,” reported Subject 2 at the end of the study. “I felt more on top of it whereas all the other times I felt like I was having to dig in just to keep the pedals turning over.”
Pain relief might be the biggest benefit of placebos. In a 2007 study, competitors in a test of pain endurance were given morphine on training days and a placebo they were told was morphine on the day of the competition. Compared to a control group that never got morphine, the placebo group showed an increased ability to endure pain during the competition.
As the authors of the 2007 study point out, the fact that a placebo can emulate the effects of morphine raises ethical questions about their use in athletic competitions. So if Kinesio tape does cause a placebo-like increase in performance, should the adhesive bandage be banned?
According to the World Anti-Doping Agency, a substance must satisfy two of the following three conditions to be considered for its prohibited list: 1) it represents a potential or actual health risk; 2) it has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance; 3) it is contrary to the spirit of sport. Here, the last two could apply. As a placebo, Kinesio tape has the potential to enhance performance. And if athletes believe that applying the tape gives them an advantage it could be argued that this is contrary to the spirit of sport. But this argument, I think, is weak. Athletes believe in the benefit of lots of odd things—having a pre-game bowel movement, getting slapped in the face, sleeping in your opponents’ shorts. It would be ridiculous to ban any of these things, much less all of them. So let’s put Kinesio tape in the same category as a playoff beard: a potential performance enhancer that adds some color to our favorite sports.
Why Weren't There any Heavyweight Women's Boxers at the Olympics?
Claressa Shields’ star is on the rise after she captured a historic gold medal on Thursday. She is the first-ever Olympic women’s middleweight champion and the only American, male or female, to win gold in London. On the women’s side, the USA had entrants in all three Olympic weight classes, as Shields was joined by flyweight Marlen Esparza (who nabbed bronze) and lightweight Queen Underwood. On the men’s side, by contrast, medals were awarded in 10 different weight classes: light flyweight, flyweight, bantamweight, lightweight, light welterweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, heavyweight, and super heavyweight. Why the big disparity?
Because the International Olympic Committee puts a limit on how many Olympians compete in any given games. The IOC, which is committed to a cap of about 10,000 Olympians all together, decreed that only 286 boxers could compete in London. When the ring was opened up to women for the 2012 tournament, AIBA, the international governing body for boxing, decided to add a total of 36 women in three divisions, with each country getting a maximum of one entrant per weight class. That left room for a field of 250 men in 10 weight classes, rather than the 11 from 2008. AIBA officials considered this a fair compromise, though those numbers still seem a little lopsided to us.
There are 10 distinct weight categories for amateur women and youth girl’s boxing. When deciding which three divisions to include in London, AIBA wanted to draw from the largest pool of women to spotlight the brightest talent. The organization explains via email that it selected its three women’s weight categories—flyweight (between 48 and 51 kilograms), lightweight (56-60 kg), and middleweight (69-75 kg)—to “cover the … maximum number of women boxers.”
Women’s boxing has the fewest weight divisions of any Olympic combat sport. Judo offers seven categories for each sex, and wrestling includes four events for women and seven for men (though the sport’s governing body is petitioning the IOC to allow seven for women as well at the 2016 Games). Even if AIBA has pinpointed the three divisions that include the most boxers, their current system has drawn fire for its lack of continuity. Given that there’s no Olympic division for those who weigh between 51 and 56 kilograms or between 60 and 69 kilograms, women in those ranges who wanted to compete in the games were forced to embark on unhealthy weight gain or weight loss programs.
Bonus boxing weight class fact: How are Olympic boxers weighed? There are weigh-ins at the start of the tournament (the “general weigh-in”) and once every morning (the “daily weigh-in”). Unlike in the professional ranks, Olympians don’t get a second chance to make weight if they initially fail the test. Olympic boxing is also notable in that its weight categories have ceilings and floors. Paid fighters need not meet a minimum poundage requirement, although “punching up” is usually a bad idea.
Bonus boxing weight class fact #2: A bantam—the namesake of boxing bantamweight division—is a small chicken-like bird. Many types of large poultry have bantam (or miniature) counterparts, although a true bantam is its own species. The word bantam comes from an Indonesian city, Bantam, that bred the tiny fowl for European sailors who ate them on sea journeys.
Wallace Stevens has a great poem called “Bantams in Pine-Woods” that ends:
You ten-foot poet among inchlings. Fat!
Begone! An inchling bristles in these pines,
Bristles, and points their Appalachian tangs,
And fears not portly Azcan nor his hoos.
Try watching bantamweight boxers with those lines running through your head. You'll be glad you did.
Carl Lewis vs. Usain Bolt: Was the American Legend Right To Say Jamaican Drug Testing Isn't Up to Snuff?
Usain Bolt cemented his status as history’s greatest sprinter on Thursday, becoming the first man to win the “sprint double”—the 100 meters and 200 meters—in two separate Olympics. After his victory in the 200, Bolt took a moment to denounce another all-time great. “Carl Lewis, I have no respect for him," Bolt said, explaining that he was perturbed by the American sprinter’s past comments about Jamaicans and performance-enhancing drugs.
In 2008, Lewis publicly questioned Jamaica’s doping regulations, saying, “Countries like Jamaica do not have a random program, so they can go months without being tested. I'm not saying anyone is on anything, but everyone needs to be on a level playing field.” He’s not the only person to raise questions about Jamaica’s testing protocols. In a 2011 interview with La Gazetta dello Sport, BALCO founder Victor Conte said he believed the Jamaicans were somehow flouting the rules. (Conte also said this week that 60 percent of athletes at the Olympics are on drugs.) Apart from speculation, is there any evidence that Jamaican doping regulations fall behind the international standard?
In an article published yesterday by Jamaica’s RJR News, Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission doping control officer Paul Wright refuted claims that the country doesn’t police drug use. According to Wright, JADCO administers tests up to five times a day for 40 weeks during the athletic season. In a direct contradiction of Lewis’ 2008 gripe, Wright also asserts that JADCO carries out unannounced tests.
Internationally, Jamaica complies with doping regulations as defined by the World Anti-Doping Agency, an independent body founded in 1999 and partially funded by the International Olympic Committee. In 2003, Jamaica signed the Copenhagen Declaration on Anti-Doping in Sport, agreeing to recognize and implement an international standard of anti-doping regulations as defined by the WADA. The United States was also a signatory, along with 191 other nations.
It wasn’t until four years ago, however—just days before the opening ceremony of the Beijing Games—that the Jamaican congress approved the Anti-Doping in Sport Act, which created the country’s anti-doping commission. (Prior to that, Jamaican athletes were subject to testing by one of WADA’s regional anti-doping organizations.) When Lewis talked to SI in 2008, the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission was only in its second month of existence. At that point, there were questions about how much out-of-competition testing was being done in Jamaica. And Frank Shorter, the American distance runner who served a term as chairman of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, told the Denver Post that he wasn’t sure how independent the Jamaican commission would be: “When they have a positive test, do they adjudicate it? Do they enforce it? Do they take it to appeal? Or does it go back to the Jamaican federation [to be buried]?"
JADCO has now had four years to exert its influence. During this time period, a healthy number of Jamaican track stars have been banned or suspended for drug infractions. In 2011, sprinter Steve Mullings was banned from competition for life after a banned diuretic was found in his system. (Mullings had previously been suspended for two years after he was found to have elevated testosterone levels.) A year prior, Shelly-Ann Fraser was suspended for six months for taking oxycodone, a drug that is not considered to be performance-enhancing. The Beijing and London 100-meter gold medalist was the eighth Jamaican athlete in a 12-month period to get nabbed for drug violations. Among those was Bolt’s training partner and double London silver medalist Yohan Blake, who was benched for three months for taking a banned stimulant. (Bolt himself has never failed a drug test.)
Following Fraser’s 2010 suspension in 2010, WADA’s director-general David Howman defended the country’s program, saying “there was nothing that made the [Jamaican] agency non-compliant with the WADA Code.” Last year, in a report delivered by WADA to its board, the Jamaican Anti-Doping Commission was found to be a WADA-compliant organization. (National organizations must perform a certain amount of out-of-competition testing to meet the criteria for compliancy.) And following Bolt’s 200-meter race last night, London Olympics chief organizer Sebastian Coe also assured naysayers that Jamaica’s anti-doping regulations were compliant with Olympic standards.
Carl Lewis, who won 100-meter gold in 1988 after steroid user Ben Johnson was stripped of the title, has been the subject of drug controversies himself. According to documents released in 2003 by the U.S. Olympic Committee’s former director of drug control administration, Lewis tested positive for stimulants and bronchodilators three times in the run-up to the 1988 Olympics. USOC, however, decided to overturn the results after Lewis said he had taken the drugs inadvertently.
Olympics Jerk Watch: Meet the Taekwondo Fighter Who Opened a Brothel to Fund His Olympic Dream
Nominee: Logan Campbell
Home country: New Zealand
Known for: Taekwondo-ing, creative fundraising, pimping.
Why he might be a jerk: In 2009, the taekwondo competitor opened a brothel to raise money so he could train for the London Games. (Apparently the old saying about how sex dulls the athletic impulse is true: Campbell lost in the first round in London.) The brothel—or “high class escort agency,” as Campbell preferred to call it—had 14 rooms that rented for up to $2500 a night, plenty of condoms at the ready, and tigers on the blankets and pillows. Campbell told the Sunday Star-Times that he only employed “smart, attractive” girls, and that he and his partner “don’t treat them like pieces of meat.” In what appears to be a prostitute recruitment video posted to YouTube under the account “logancampbellnz,” various women extol the virtues of an unnamed job that “allows you to shop whenever you want, take luxurious holidays,” and so on. “I didn’t used to have enough money to pay the bills,” one woman says. “Now I make in one day what I used to make in a week. I’m living the dream.”
Perhaps worried that sports fans would get the wrong idea, Campbell assured the Star-Times that he was not a pimp: “When people think of a pimp they think of a guy standing around on a street corner with gold chains. Pimps are more tough-type guys. … I'm an owner of an escort agency.” The New Zealand Olympic Committee wasn’t convinced, and sent Campbell a strongly worded letter saying that “your open solicitation of 'clients' for your 'business' while using the Olympic or Olympian connection must cease immediately, or the NZOC will be forced to consider taking legal action against you.” Campbell sold the brothel and today refuses to talk about his experiences in the sex trade. When asked about it by the Guardian recently, he responded: “I’ll answer if you want to pay me.”
Why he might not be a jerk: Well, prostitution is legal in New Zealand, so he wasn’t breaking any laws. At the time, Campbell told the AP that he opened the brothel so as not to be a burden on his parents. So, really, he was just doing what any good son would do. And there’s something very endearing about Campbell’s efforts to differentiate his brothel from the seedy sin-palaces against which he was presumably competing.
Jerk score: I’ll give him 1 out of 3 for style, because he could’ve gone much, much seedier if he really wanted to embarrass the New Zealand Olympic officials. He gets 3 out of 3 for technical merit, because it’s really hard to find tiger-themed bedding these days. 1 out of 3 for consistency, because a true jerk would have opened two brothels. And 1 out of 1 in the “have you ever tried to fund your Olympic dreams by opening a whorehouse” category. 6 out of 10 for Logan Campbell.
There Is No Such Thing as Team USA
It's been a good run for Team USA, which as of this writing leads the medal count with 92. But the London Games have also emphasized how, for all our focus on U.S. Olympians for a couple of weeks every other year, Team USA is an artificial construct that has little to do with the Olympic athlete's experiences and training.
The range of the journey-to-the-Olympics stories we get every year highlight just how different Olympians' paths are in the years leading up to competition. Weightlifter Sarah Robles' story highlighted the huge range of stipends available to athletes depending on their sports—she was living on $400 a week and food donations before public outcry helped her win an endorsement that helped fund the last stretch of her Olympic journey. We also learned that Colorado swimmer Missy Franklin's family had spent $100,000 in a single year to finance her career, and would continue to turn down endorsement cash for her to preserve her collegiate eligibility—unless, as her father said, she was offered a deal so big she couldn't possibly refuse it, quantifying that by saying, "I remember when Tiger signed for five years and $40 million. That's a horrendous amount of money." Gabby Douglas' mother sold her jewelry to help keep her daughter in gynmastics, and earlier this year, filed for bankruptcy. This spring, CitiMortgage initiated foreclosure procedings on swimmer Ryan Lochte's family, though his endorsements and prospective reality television career will presumably save the family home.
It's not as if there aren't financial disparities between individual professional athletes on the same team, too: It makes sense that veterans at the peak of their careers would make more than rookies. But the National Football League and Major League Baseball have minimum salaries in place that ensure that no one lives in poverty. There's no such guaranteed financial support—and of course, none of the tight control of athletes' lives that countries like China impose on their competitors—for American Olympians. They come into the games from very different places, and winning or losing may mean hugely different things to their financial futures. If Missy Franklin had a bad time in London, she'd go home to college and family financial stability, while Gabby Douglas' successes may give her family security they didn't have before.
With stakes like those, it's no wonder that real bitterness sometimes springs up between competitors. American hurdler Dawn Harper has been sharply critical of the attention showered on her teammate Lolo Jones, saying, "I feel as if I had a pretty good story ... not have a contract, working three jobs, living in a frat house, trying to make it work, coming off running in someone else's shoes getting a gold medal." Kelli Wells, who won bronze in the women's 100-meter hurdles, said in the same interview that it was easy to congratulate Australian Sally Pearson, who won gold in their event, which makes sense. It's not as if Pearson will take up space in the same media and endorsement market where Harper and Wells have to compete with Jones for attention and support.
And even when money isn't at stake, the rivalries can be fierce, even nasty. "I saw somebody that has basically been asking to get beat for the longest time," swimmer Tyler Clary said about Michael Phelps, words Phelps will presumably remember after the games that made him the most-decorated Olympian of all time. Lochte and Phelps had a friendlier rivalry going into the games—they play cards together—but that may be in part because their future plans lie in different spheres, Lochte's in reality television, and if he gets his wishes, fashion design, while Phelps seems headed for a more sedate retirement.
But whatever the tensions, when they reveal themselves it's a reminder that Team USA is a convenient fiction, an idea most of us embrace for a scant few weeks and then forget about, leaving a patchwork of organizations and private investments behind. It's nice to imagine a united American front at the Games, but we spend the years in between them investing in the athletes and the sports that are there year in and year out, our real Teams USA wearing a hundred different uniforms and in perpetual conflict with each other.
Usain Bolt Took a Bunch of Photos with a Swedish Guy's Camera. Who Owns the Rights to the Sprinter's Snapshots?
After becoming the first man to nab back-to-back gold medals in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints, Usain Bolt took a new job: press photographer. In addition to striking his trademark bolt pose and taking a victory lap, Bolt also grabbed a photographer’s DSLR camera and snapped photos of fellow Jamaican and 200-meter silver medalist Yohan Blake goofing off, the exhilarated crowd, and the swarm of media members jockeying for images of the world’s best sprinter.
The camera belonged to Jimmy Wixtröm, a photographer for the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet. After Bolt handed the camera back, the paper published the sprinter’s photos on its website. Considering that Bolt took the shots, did the Swedes have the right to publish them?
Under most countries' intellectual property laws, including the United Kingdom’s, the person who actually pushed the button owns the photograph, unless the work was made for hire. That means Wixtröm technically does not own the copyright to Bolt’s photos, unless he and the sprinter negotiated a rights transfer in writing. This legal technicality also means that tourists in London who ask a passerby to take a photo of them would not own the copyright to the resulting photograph, though it is doubtful their use of the work would ever be contested. (According to Carolyn E. Wright’s Photo Attorney blog, in that case you would “likely have an implied license to use the photograph for personal uses. … But you probably wouldn’t have the right to enter the photo into a contest or license it for commercial purposes.”)
In an interview accompanying the photos, Wixtröm called Bolt’s amateur photos “pretty good” and explained that it wasn't Bolt's idea to take his camera—that he had actually pleaded with the world record holder to snap some photos. The Jamaican and the Swede had pulled this stunt twice before, at the 2011 track and field world championships in Daegu and during a workout in Rome. Wixtröm admitted it took some nagging to get Bolt to repeat the stunt, with Bolt even jokingly calling him a stalker. “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘Usain, take a picture, Usain, take a picture.’ So I gave a promise,” Bolt told Aftonbladet.