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In Record Time

Just how fast is fast? Viewers of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing have a whole new set of answers to that question. In swimming and track and field in particular, world records tumbled with surprising frequency. The principal culprits were the American swimmer Michael Phelps and the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, both of whom delivered performances that bordered on the superhuman. Yet while Phelps won eight gold medals with a body uniquely suited to swimming, Bolt outran his competitors with a six-foot-five-inch frame that was once deemed too tall for running short distances. Yet there he was, the aptly named Bolt, winning gold in both the 100 meter and 200 meter dash—plus the 4x100 meter relay—in record time.

Fans and athletes alike love to see records fall. It proves that no single athletic feat, no matter how remarkable, is the last word on human achievement. When the impossible is possible, people will keep watching, and runners will keep running. Yet if excellence is too often attained, it can lose some of its luster. In the case of Michael Phelps, the skeptical fan can be forgiven for finding less to celebrate in the swimmer’s seven world records than in his ability to outduel his opponents eight straight times. When records are shattered this often, there is usually a reason; in Beijing’s Water Cube extra lanes and added pool depth obviously played a role. With Bolt, no such shadow was cast; the pleasure found in his success was unalloyed. The only challenge to his legacy, one hopes, will come from another runner on another track, on a day when we will all be watching.

The Wind Bloweth

The Statue of Liberty’s torch alight through wind power? Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City raised that and other possibilities at a recent conference on alternative energy in Nevada. Around the country, many wind turbines are already in place. Boston has them at Logan International Airport. Southern California Edison recently signed a 20-year contract for the construction of a wind farm with 300 turbines. After Colorado voters approved an initiative requiring the state’s largest utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, wind capacity quadrupled, a situation that has put oil and gas companies on the defensive, partly out of fear of jeopardizing their tax breaks. Texas now leads in overall wind power capacity. And the Texas oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, who is vigorously promoting development of wind power, sees the Great Plains states as capable of satisfying 20 percent of U.S. electricity needs through wind.

According to the Earth Policy Institute, one of every three countries in the world, driven by worries over climate change and energy security (oil and gas are not inexhaustible; wind is) now generates at least some of its electricity from wind. Germany is in the forefront of total wind-power capacity. The United Kingdom’s offshore capacity, the institute predicts, is expected to double by the end of next year, and by 2020 offshore wind capacity will be enough to meet the electricity requirements of all homes in Britain. The institute identifies the United States as the world leader in new installations, with its growth stimulated largely by a tax credit for wind production contained in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. The world may indeed be on its way to becoming greener. T. Boone Pickens, lead on!

A New Blessed Couple

Under the influence of the Second Vatican Council, with an added boost from Pope John Paul II, the church has worked hard to recognize saints whose lives can be more easily emulated by the married faithful. Soon to be added to the list of married saints (Mary and Joseph, Peter, Thomas More, Monica and Elizabeth Ann Seton among them) are Louis and Marie Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. In August, Pope Benedict XVI announced that the two will be declared blessed on Oct. 19, during a Mass in Lisieux, France. In July the Vatican approved the miracle needed for their beatification, the step before canonization.

Ironically—for those looking for more examples of how to live a holy married life—the two had initially thought of living together as “brother and sister,” hoping to imitate the relationship of Mary and Joseph. Happily, a confessor later persuaded them to lead a more conventional married life. Louis (1823-94) and Zélie (1831-77) would eventually have nine children, five of whom joined religious orders. Some wondered if the two were being honored for their own holiness (which is evident) or because they were the parents of the Little Flower—though the miracle puts an end to such speculation. Zélie died at a relatively young age, and in later years Louis seems to have suffered some form of mental illness, a source of deep pain to his daughters, especially Thérèse, who wrote about her father extensively in her journals. The upcoming beatification of her parents is a reminder that sanctity comes in many styles, and holiness always makes its home in humanity.

8 years 8 months ago
It seems a bit churlish to somewhat negate Michael Phelps accomplishments in Beijing. Maybe the pool helped, certainly his body is built for swimming, but he still worked very hard and accomplished a remarkable feat. Good job, Michael! Your success in no way lessens Usuain Bolt's marvelous performance. There is enough good to go around! Congratulations to you both!!!

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