Reflections on the Olympics and Bolt

with Clare Forrester

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

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You have to give the British credit for executing one of the best Olympics in modern history, arguably THE best. I have attended only three other Olympics but must say that the excitement and joie de vivre surpass anything I've experienced in Atlanta, Athens and Beijing. The contagious team spirit, fierceness of the competition, the passion and raw emotion from competitors like the mighty Mo Farah, Felix Sanchez and Tyson Gay was nothing like I have ever seen. True, there were some hiccups here and there, but those were minor and can be overlooked, given the many pluses. The front-page headline of the freely distributed Metro newspaper reflects the message of others published here in London: "London, take a bow".

On Sunday morning while riding on the Jubilee line that plies between Stanmore and Stratford, the city where the Olympic Park is located, not for the first time I was engaged in conversation by a fellow passenger who wanted to exchange views on the Games, on Bolt, Mo Farah and the Olympics itself. I don't know how she guessed that I was Jamaican, maybe as the high commissioner said, these days, "everyone is looking 'Jamaicanly'" and perhaps I was doing just that. It certainly helps for people to identify you with Jamaica these days in Britain. You are then assured of instant celebrity status. Point is that this young woman, of apparent mixed heritage, guessed correctly. She told me that she was a schoolteacher, and had been simply awed by these Olympics. She said it had given her a reason to get up in the morning. Her entire class of four to five year olds all now want run as fast as Bolt. In Britain, they now have someone of the stature of a Mo Farah to emulate as their local role model. Further, the Olympics have served to entice the children away from their preoccupation with the virtual world and show them that the real world does have much to recommend it.

It has definitely helped that the British Olympic team did excellently, winning a record haul of 60+ medals, although comparatively few in track and field. It certainly energised the huge gathering in London to maintain high vocal decibel levels throughout these games as they were continuously encouraged to "make some noise" and that they did enthusiastically. I can only guess that the ENT specialists in this country will have a lot of clients over the next few weeks. The good thing, though, was that the British crowds cheered for everybody who they felt was worth a cheer, although they reserved the loudest for the established champions, from whichever country, and of course each British athlete who appeared in whatever arena was assured of a rousing reception that was sometimes maintained throughout their performance. I recalled thinking that Farah and Jessica Ennis had a distinct edge over their rivals, given the crowd support received. In the end, though, both delivered magnificently and it now seems that England has a new unofficial king and queen.

Jamaica, predictably, won 12 medals, one more than in Beijing. This ranks us in third place in the track and field competition, behind only the USA and China. This was another outstanding team performance despite some major disappointments.

For me, the athlete of the Olympics was Bolt, but there were a few other standouts like Mo Farah himself who would understandably be the first choice of the British, and of course the swimming immortal Michael Phelps. I understand that the athletes were given cameos at the closing ceremony and that Phelps was presented with a special trophy with the inscription at the base that read, "Greatest Olympic Athlete of All Time".

But Bolt to me transcended these Games. The BBC enjoyed its biggest audience pull for their coverage of the 100 metres and globally there were reportedly two billion viewers of the live broadcast. I have written elsewhere that Bolt had the accredited media crew at times, along with everybody else, eating out of his hands. Nowhere was this more evident than at the closing ceremony when he led the crowd in the wave after the playing of Jamaica's national anthem. Commenting on this the following day, The New York Times reported that the gesture "was Bolt at his sportive best. In a competition in which medal counts and other nationalistic displays often take centre stage, it took a showman of Bolt's stature to twice take the Games by storm and remind people that sports, even at its highest level, is child's play".

Further indication of the global impact of the Jamaican superstar was given at the 200-metre medallists' press conference when a journalist who introduced himself as a correspondent from India began by conveying congratulations on behalf of the one billion people in India. Then there was also the report that there were millions of tweets on the 200-metre race immediately following.

Given this reality, the IOC Chief Jacques Rogge's contention that Bolt still had a lot more ground to cover before he could be rated as a true legend, from which he has since somewhat backtracked, sounded a bit parsimonious. Interestingly, Lord Sebastian Coe has already discounted Rogge's assessment appropriately, a view supported by Mo Farah who said in awe: "There will never be another like him."

My view on Rogge's remarks may be a bit different from some of my friends and colleagues. Rogge, however misguided, is attempting to motivate Bolt - who has been making sounds that suggest this may be his last Olympic Games - to hang around a little longer. PUMA is not the sole commercial entity to have gained substantially from Bolt's marketing potential. There is little doubt that the IOC and the IAAF need Bolt around for a while, at least until someone else of similar stature comes along.

However, his disrespect of Bolt may backfire, if that is his aim. I gather that at the 4x100-metre medallists' press conference on Saturday night Bolt directly addressed Rogge's remarks critically, although he was not disrespectful. I think this is one of those things the Jamaican star should leave to others like Lord Coe, Farah and journalists to address - which some have already done. He should also leave Carl Lewis out of the equation. Besides everything else, Lewis's credibility has been weakened considerably in recent months by the now well-publicised information that he had tested positive more than once for a stimulant prior to the 1988 Olympics. Bolt runs the risk of damaging his pristine reputation and marketability by injecting any negatives in comments he makes to the media about his critics like Lewis and Rogge. This is one superstar who doesn't need to go that route. He is loved and respected globally, which is much more than can be said about either Rogge or Lewis. For sure, the 2012 Games have immortalised him placing him in the company of other legends as Ali, Pele and his role model, Jesse Owens.

More troubling is the statement made by the former head of WADA, Canadian Dick Pound. When asked whether he was happy with the way Jamaica's athletes are tested for drugs, the outspoken and controversial IOC member Dick Pound told Reuters Television on Saturday that it was difficult to test Jamaican athletes. "No. They are one of the groups that are hard to test. It is (hard) to get in and find them, and so forth," said Pound, who is also a former chief of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). This is a totally misleading statement as there is no evidence to back up this claim. The Jamaica Anti-Doping Commission (JADCO) may have to take action against Mr Pound for bringing their agency into disrepute.

The success of Deshorn Walcott in the javelin and the number of field event finalists for the Caribbean in athletics, plus the performance of Alia Atkinson in the pool, suggests that now may be the time to make a concerted push to develop non-traditional Olympic sports and put significant resources behind their upliftment. Nothing inspires patriotism and positive national spirit like sports. It is time to match sports importance to the psyche of the nation with resources spent on its development.




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