Meanwhile, humans landed a small truck on Mars.
Every little boy (and plenty of little girls, I'm sure) dreams of running fast. And Bolt's 9.63s sprint was probably about two, three or four times as fast as most young children can run. I remember the first time I ran 100m against the clock, I came in at roughly 20s. I won't say how old I was...
Meanwhile, humans landed a small truck, weighing almost a ton, on Mars.
Bolt raced in front of a crowd of 80,000 at the stadium and hundreds of millions around the world. He is an international celebrity whose endorsement is worth millions to any brand and whose face is recognised by countless fans everywhere.
Meanwhile, humans landed a small truck, capable of finding evidence of extra-terrestrial life, on the ruddy surface of another planet.
Bolt's top speed was about 45km/h, the fastest any human has ever run. Curiosity's top speed was about 21,200 km/h. Bolt's speed was roughly double that of my boyhood efforts. Compared to my boyhood efforts at launching myself into space, Curiosity surpassed my - let's be generous and say 50cm - jump by a factor of 1.12 billion, travelling roughly 560 million kilometres from the surface of Earth to that of Mars. Bolt has trained for years in order to get every last detail correct: working on his running style, his start, his finish, his crowd-pleasing theatrics. Humans have been trying to work out whether there is or has been life on Mars for centuries and this mission has been in planning for eight years and en route for eight months, with scores of highly trained rocket scientists planning every last detail of a mission out of the Earth's gravity well, through the irradiated void of space and which culminated in seven minutes of terror, a hugely complex multi-stage precision landing procedure that had to be entirely automated, given the fact that signals from Mars to Earth take fourteen minutes and the entry only took seven. Imagine getting an almost one tonne truck to slow from over 21,000 km/h to zero in seven minutes while falling through a thin atmosphere with relatively strong gravity and landing on a precise spot on the far side of a planet without kicking up any dust or breaking billions of dollars worth of delicate scientific equipment. Wow.
So well done Mr Bolt. But what kind of planet do we live on where many of the major news organisations think that a man doing what humans have done for hundreds of thousands of years (just very marginally better than anyone else) is bigger news than landing a space laboratory capable of reconstructing the deep history of another planet and searching for evidence of extra-terrestrial life on the surface of a planet 560 million kilometres away? Well done NASA. You deserve all the gold medals today, for an achievement that leaves every olympian, no matter how awesomely superhuman, in the shade.
Knowledge is superior to strength, skill to speed, carefully planned and executed cooperation to isolated brilliance. Yet better even than knowledge is wisdom. Though don't hold your breath for the day that the pursuit of wisdom makes a news headline ahead of a photogenic man running quickly at a corporate-sponsored event. Nonetheless, if Curiosity finds what it is looking for, we'll need plenty of wisdom to grasp it.
She [Wisdom] is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her. [...]
She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called happy.
- Proverbs 3.15, 18 (NRSV).