Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Usain Bolt and the Peacock's Tail

Jason Kottke brought to my attention this interesting analysis of how fast Usain Bolt could have run the Olympic 100-meter dash if he had not celebrated before the finish line.

This has made me think about the effects of Bolt's celebration: even though he would have run slightly faster without it, is there any doubt that he increased the percepation (and marketability) of his athletic prowess? The perception that you can win a gold medal and break a world record while devoting a little time to expressing your joy strikes me as much more valuable than the possession of a slightly better world record. (The less scientific estimates I've heard from casual viewers tend drastically to overestimate the impact of the celebration. In other words, many people now think Bolt is even faster than he actually is.) I think it's a peacock's tail phenomenon: even if a big tail is a first-order disadvantage, surviving in spite of it shows that you are one bad peacock.

But as DeSean Jackson has learned and learned again, flashing the tail is only impressive when it doesn't get you eaten.