We’ve long since reached the point of full meme-ification of major sporting events, where every major occurrence gets an extended moment of comedic commentary on the internet. But, given that track hasn’t had a major event in four years—at least by mainstream understanding—Big Meme had not quite yet reached our peaceful shores.
This summer with the Olympics, the funny people who cover other sports stopped by to watch ours and offered their commentary that led to a rash of memes on the track and field landscape the likes of which we have never before seen.
As a card-carrying millennial, I should be able to tell you precisely what exactly constitutes a meme, but I must confess to you that I can not. A couple years ago, I thought I had a firm handle on it: They were those pictures of stuff with some superimposed text, like so:
But, then it turns out that other things can be memes too: Gymnasts looking unimpressed with things, swimmers looking like they’re smelling a pretty nasty instance of flatulence; literally any mention of Harambe. It seems that any thing people say funny things about on the internet is a meme.
Regardless of the truth value of that last statement, that will be the working definition governing what is suitable for inclusion in the following un-ranked internet list. What is that list? It’s a list of the best memes that came out of the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Riffing on the Classics
In the final of the men’s high jump, Ukrainian Bohdan Bondarenko began an approach, and then...he didn’t jump.
bae: come over— OHB (@ohholybutt) August 17, 2016
bae: heads up my parents are home
Note: the Vine has since been deleted, but the video referenced by the meme is still accessible via YouTube:
Our next reinterpretation of a classic comes by way of Shaunae Miller in the final of the women’s 400m. You’ve seen this image already and have likely read too many “takes” on whether her dive was worth it or, even more crazy, whether it violated the spirit of competition. This meme captures the truth that none of those things ultimately matter. Miller won a gold medal.
Sliding into their DMs like pic.twitter.com/R8ZTfAqe11— ᴏsᴄᴀʀ ɢᴀᴍʙʟᴇ (@OscarGambler) August 16, 2016
Mr. T is known for many things, but he is best known for pitying fools of all kinds. Tyson Gay got the meme treatment in his vague resemblance of the meme-able T. Gay was wearing a lot of chains; so does Mr. T. With his beard, Gay looked like a hard mother effer; Mr. T. always already is a hard mother effer. Cue the meme:
Usain Bolt is a Meme Machine
Usain Bolt is by far the most recognizable of track stars. He owns the world record and three gold medals in the premier track event of the Olympics—the 100m dash. He also possesses the sort of on-track personality that makes him fun to watch. It’s no wonder, then, that some of the better memes of the Olympics came as a result of Bolt’s performances.
The first one comes from the semifinal of the 200m, where he held off Canada’s Andre De Grasse at the line and exchanged some playful banter with the young up-and-comer as they crossed the finish line.
Our second Bolt meme captures the power Bolt brings to the sport. Over the past couple years, Crying Jordan faces have been photoshopped onto any and every dejected individual who has appeared on our screens. Their ubiquity has made them controversial as many have come to see the Crying Jordan act as played out.
In his performance in a preliminary heat of the 100m, Usain Bolt offered a positive alternative to the proliferation of Crying Jordans. Yes, this meme features three Crying Jordans, but more important are the possibilities it offers for a new face to photoshop onto individuals experiencing the heights of triumph. Meet Usain Bolt: The Anti-Crying Jordan!
Is that what that means?
The final meme featured in the top-meme roundup of the 2016 Olympics is a personal favorite of mine and it didn’t get as broadly appropriated as the previous content. But it comes courtesy of British 400m runner Martyn Rooney after he failed to advance out of the first round:
"I ran like a dick" is the quote of the Olympics so far pic.twitter.com/aCVjVNfx7a— Vishal Joshi (@Joshiii_95) August 13, 2016
This isn’t how I understand “ran like a dick” to actually mean. He wasn’t running around the track shoving other runners onto the infield; he just ran poorly.
Rooney apologized for using that phrase on national television, but then proceeded to run true to the meaning of his words when he was caused the U.K. 4x400m team to be disqualified in the semifinals. Despite his team not being in the lead, he moved into the first-place position in advance of the final hand-off. That, is running like a d***.
I hope I speak for all fans of track in wishing the proliferation of memes around the sport doesn’t stop with the termination of these Olympic Games. The past two weeks showed that track is easily translatable to social media and popular understanding. Here’s to the beginning of the meme revolution of track and field!