Friday, August 22, 2008

Three Strikes and You are In

One of my friends and an ardent supporter of our own Asafa Powell called me in excitement this morning. "Mek sure yuh write 'bout Asafa yuh nuh." This of course was in response to Asafa's beautiful victory in the 4 x 100m relay, after the ignominious defeat he met in the blue riband 100m race earlier in the week. While some may not agree that it was ignominious, it was certainly heart-rending to read about his eyes brimming with tears as once again he failed his fans and countrymen by crashing to fifth place for the second time at the Olympics.

Our hearts bled for Asafa. So this morning we sent out our collective telepathic good will to him and the team. This was all the more necessary after the girls mishandled the baton in their relay and it was with some amount of tension that we waited for the almost sixty minutes for Asafa and the guys to take it home. The tension was heightened at the start as Nesta Carter, a competent runner who kept us in the running, handed over to the tiny Michael Fraser, a 100 metre finalist who turned the pressure up a notch, then he reached the lightning Bolt and our hearts lurched as we detected a tiny hitch with the handover; but we needn't have worried as once Bolt took over it seemed like victory was guaranteed. Then when we saw him reach for Asafa and mouth the words "Go Asafa" we were on fire. Asafa lit up the track with no concern for his competitors; it was him alone and the clock. He and Bolt had talked about it before and he meant to make it come true.
“It was a great thing. We stuck together all the way. We talked about it and I asked Asafa if we could do this (break the world record). After speaking to him, I had no doubt in my mind.”
For sixteen years USA held on to the world record of 37.40 secs and it was dear Asafa known for his humility and shyness who was granted and who grasped the gift of smashing it across the tape in 37.10 secs. Interestingly Bolt trailed his friend all the way down the track encouraging him to blast it to smithereens. There he was in the frame, Asafa with that look of determination and Bolt hand raised in victory. It was beautiful. But wait did anyone notice that Bolt who ran the 3rd leg crossed the finish line before the fourth leg runner from the Netherlands?

We joined jubilantly in their celebration. Finally a gold medal for the hardworking Asafa, who even tried to do a little jig. To tell you the truth his dancing could do with some help - maybe from Bolt.

This brings me to the controversy that has surrounded Bolt and his celebratory style. So many have had so much to say, Bob Costas from NBC, Ato Boldon, Jacques Rogge to name the main detractors, but Bolt has not been hindered by the irritating buzz. It was amusing to read about Boldon's attempt to justify his criticism bearing in mind that it came on further reflection some time after his, dare we say it: spontaneous enjoyment of the race. He should have given Usain the benefit of said spontaneity instead of casting aspersions of poor sportsmanship. To Ato's credit however he has been a huge admirer of Bolt and there is every indication that he will continue to be.

Interestingly Jamaicans seemed to have been shocked by the reaction to our superstar. We understood his response to be a spontaneous expression of unbridled joy. That is just the Jamaican way. "Disrespectful" what are they talking about? It seemed incomprehensible that his actions were interpreted that way. And that brought into sharp relief the matter of cultural differences. If I may generalize, Jamaicans are not a submissive people, we express ourselves loudly. We tend to speak our mind, sing, dance, chant, create and celebrate. We love track and field, football and reggae. We love to show the world that "we likkle but we tallawah", translation - we are small but strong and our Caribbean brothers love us for it too. We have a vibe that can be found nowhere else in the world, that is felt once the wheels of any jet hits the tarmac of Jamaican soil, that was felt in the crowds that cheered in Half Way Tree, New Kingston, MoBay and in the little school house in Trelawny when Usain entered the Bird's Nest.

When Usain celebrated at about the 80 metre mark, we roared and celebrated with him. At no time did we think he was disrespecting his rivals which included our own Asafa. In case others did not know it, we knew that the race was over and it was time to party. Sure he could have run harder but he already held the record and - as we say - to rahtid, even in his exuberance he broke it again. He was just thrilled to see victory and gain glory in getting an Olympic gold and he had the whole country depending on him to do it two more times - that would mean running at least five more races - and do not forget he wanted the world record in the 200m for which he would need to run doubly hard. It is noteworthy that Shawn Crawford, one of the competitors spoke out about not feeling disrespected. Asafa himself has come out in Usain's defence. Wallace Spearman lifted him in glee. Usain said he meant no such thing. This seems to rebut the presumption of disrespect to these men. His fellow competitors like many of the spectators appeared to be infected by his gaiety.

The criticism lacks sincerity when one considers the harshness with which it has been delivered and repeated and the failure to similarly and honestly address other instances of so-called showboating. Take a look for example at the triathlete Emma Snowsill of Australia who wrapped herself in her country's flag and waved to the crowd almost 100 m before the finish line and Ato Boldon's baring his chest after victory. In neither case did they win three Olympic gold medals and three world records in the process, a monumental achievement for the little boy from Trelawny, yet they were allowed to enjoy their moment of glory with impunity.

Usain's response has been simple and fitting,

There are no words to explain how I feel..............To me, I am a performer. I came here to perform and to help people enjoy themselves. If you don’t enjoy your job, then it makes no sense. I will not change. I will always be myself. That is my personality. It is just me having fun.The crowd looks forward to seeing me coming out. I just like to make people happy. They pay money to come and see a show.”

That Mr. Rogge and friends, does not need to involve toeing the line or minding his p's and q's by saying "jolly good ole chap". If that is your way fine, it is not ours and I say show respect to our culture and perhaps you will earn a modicum of respect too. In that regard from reports, given Rogge's restraint on other more serious issues, he lacks the moral authority to pass judgment on our radiant, speedy Jamaican. Nevertheless, Monsieur Rogge, though you are on in years, you still have time, you can learn, all you need to do to learn our ways and maybe our secret is to come to Jamaica. I'm sure you will love jerk pork, ackee and saltfish, yam, green bananas and calaloo and if you feel a little queasy we have nuff shrimp and lobster too. Welcome to Jamrock!

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