24 August 2008

'There's a Natural Mystic...'

John Maxwell

Sherwood Content in Trelawny and Waterhouse in St Andrew are about as far away as you can get from the big-time. The roads leading to both places are pitted, potholed disasters, and streetlights and other public amenities are singularly lacking, the schools ramshackle excuses for educational institutions held together by love and the dedication of poor people.

Yet over the last few days children from these and similar communities have, half a world away, basked in the adulation of more people than they have ever seen in their lives. They have all managed to defy the considerable odds against them, and are become international heroes; young men and women whose achievements have confounded, excited, astonished and enchanted billions of others round the world.

Their stories are all different, and although many of them will ascribe their presence on the Olympic podium to the care and attention of teachers, coaches and sponsors, their stories are in reality tributes to their own individual selves, to their ability to outperform their fellows, to convert lucky breaks into concrete opportunities and to deliver the goods before any audience, anywhere, any time. The Jamaican Olympic team as I write on Thursday, has not completed its agenda but it has already done better than any previous team from this country and better than teams from countries with much larger populations and resources.

In Track & Field, on Thursday afternoon, Jamaica and Russia were tied with five gold medals each, the US had four , Kenya and Ethiopia had two each. In the total number of medals won in track and field, Jamaica with 9 was third behind the US 20 and Russia 10 and ahead of all other countries.

Herb McKenley: Thou should’st be alive at this Hour!

What is most interesting to me is that the more level the playing field, the more dope testing is done, the better Jamaica does. The ‘natural mystic’ is powerful indeed and does not depend on technological enhancements of the chemical kind.

The fact that Jamaica has dine so well is disquieting to those who don’t know us and lots of questions have been asked about our testing procedures. The short answer is that our athletes are among the most thoroughly tested in the world.

Owen Slot, Chief Sports Reporter of the Times, reported: “In Beijing, the unprecedented success of the Jamaican track and field team has come to general attention. The IAAF accordingly produced the following statistics: there are 22 elite Jamaicans and they [each] have been tested out of competition, on average, two or three times since January 1. Bolt has been tested four times out of competition, three times in competition and six times since he arrived in Beijing.”(my italics)

I believe that the continual testing is probably what defeated Asafa Powell, who believes that the taking of blood for tests weakened him. I believe Powell, like another sporting genius, Lawrence Rowe, defeats himself before he ever gets to the arena.

In Beijing, our men and the women have performed above expectations, no doubt, powerfully inspired by Usain Bolt’s performances. I loved Shelly Ann’s wide-eyed jumping for joy in victory, Kerron’s steely courage and determination, Veronica’s gracious majesty – I loved them all, the medal winners and those who also ran . It was mindblowing to watch the women’s 100 meters, knowing what Bolt had done, and to realise that many of our young champions had never been on such a stage before. Their bravery alone is worth saluting; added to performances that did their country prouder than we had any right to expect.

The Man of the Moment

The American Michael Phelps with his eight gold medals was the statistical hero of the first week of the Games. There is no doubt that Usain Bolt has been the hero of the second week. The sportswriters have strained for adjectives to properly describe him, concluding that he is probably the greatest sprinter of all time. He is the only man to have broken the Olympic and World records in the process of winning gold medals in the 100 and 200 meter sprints, only the second athlete to have held both world records simultaneously since Don Quarrie of Jamaica three decades ago and the first man in a quarter of a century to have captured both Olympic titles at the same games.

There seems to be something in Bolt that brings out the best in sportswriters. Some of the reports of his feats are among the best sportswriting I have read for a very long time. Most have been as scrupulous as possible, and I was particularly chuffed to notice one who pointed out that while Michael Johnson’s 200m world record was done with a slight following wind, Bolt was running into a headwind when he broke that record.

But it is Bolt’s personality that has entranced the writers. His straightforward innocence – though none of them use that word – has captivated them. His is the essence of cool, no ‘side’ as the English used to say; just a natural unforced joie de vivre which even his beaten competitors enjoy and appreciate. So when the head of the Olympic movement, Jacques Rogge, slated Usain for discourtesy in ‘showing off’ and not congratulating his competitors, everybody came to Bolt’s defence. If Rogge had really ‘seen’ the race he would gave realised that unlike any other 100 meters ever run at the Olympics, the leader was so far away from the field that he would have had to go back a long way to perform the usual obsequies – sorry, courtesies.

Out of the Cockpit

I was born about ten miles as the crow flies, from Usain’s birthplace and my father used to preach at his community church, Waldensia. Driving to Sherwood Content now is not much different to sixty years ago. The road is still awful. but the scenery is grand, with the cliffs of the Cockpit Country looming over the road for much of the journey from Clark’s Town.

Usain Bolt proves, if proof were needed, that the Cockpit Country still has treasures to offer the world. The treasures include its people, who have never given up the real struggle for autonomy and self respect, as well as the natural endowment which is beyond cataloguing.

Here is the real Jamaican heartland, the geological, historical and cultural nexus of our civilisation.

That is why some of us want to protect it from the lustful embrace of the bauxite companies and other ‘developers’ who want what’s there for the money they can make out of it and to leave it barren, devastated and useless.

Usain Bolt behaves like a Trelawny man. He has taken his destiny into his own hands. He chose his coach himself and though he listens to everything he says, he is not simply a puppet – as some athletes are to their trainers and as some of us are to our leaders and our economic superiors.

The road away from Sherwood Content is a demonstration of the past, sugar cane flourishing where food should be growing.

Usain Bolt shows the new way to independence, self-development and community responsibility. I hear he is putting money into various projects in his community. He knows where he came from and he knows where he is going.

As he said, after the 200 meters final, echoing Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali after his Olympic triumph 40 years ago-– he is “the Greatest”.

It’s the truth. It is not a boast.

There’s a natural mystic, blowing through the air …


For a good word on Rogge, read Sally Jenkins in the Washing ton Post

Copyright © 2008 John Maxwell


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