Jamaica's Usain Bolt easily won the 100-meter dash gold medal this weekend, blowing away the field for the first 80 meters or so before celebrating, coasting and showboating his way across the finish line, still setting a world record of 9.69 seconds but probably costing himself at least a tenth of a second with his finish.
Most fans watching at home probably just assumed Bolt became excited when he realized how far ahead he was, and that's why he celebrated. But Darren Rovell of CNBC makes a great point: Bolt might have had a financial incentive to slow down before he crossed the finish line.
You see, the reason Usain Bolt didn't push through and finish in 9.60 seconds instead of 9.69 is -- as the rumor goes -- because he's smart. He didn't want to kill his gravy train.
Runners often get six figure bonuses for doing things like breaking world records and if you study the previous four times the 100 meter has been broken over the last three years, it's never been by more than .03 seconds. Asafa Powell (9.77) broke Maurice Greene's record (9.79). Justin Gatlin (9.76) broke the record of Powell, who broke it back a little more than a year later (9.74). That stood until Bolt broke the record (9.72) in May.
So, the conspiracy theory goes, that Bolt knew before the race that he had to win the race and take the gold, but not push it too much, otherwise he'd kill his opportunity at future bonuses.
If Bolt gets a bonus every time he breaks a world record, and if he knows he's capable of running the 100-meter dash in the 9.55-second range, he might just decide to keep lowering the record by a couple hundredths of a second with each successive race, and not burn himself out by setting a record that he himself can't break. That doesn't exactly mesh with our ideals of what the Olympics are supposed to be about, but it's hard to blame the guy for wanting to milk every dollar he can out of being the world's fastest man.