The 'Bolt-isation' syndrome
Whether or not Usain Bolt won the gold medal in the 100-metre race is irrelevant for all intents and purposes, within the broader scheme of things. In fact, the gripping, worldwide, anticipatory lead-up to the race is proof of the point of this essay.
I describe the phenomenon as the "Bolt-isation" syndrome - the amazingly awesome impact that Usain Bolt has made on the world in general, and the global sporting landscape in particular.
While those Jamaicans tracking Bolt from high school knew and recognised the huge talents and potential reposed in the home-bred sprinter, world attention sparked when the "Bolt" of lightning hit Beijing, China, in 2008. That was the real start of the "Bolt-isation" syndrome.
Bolt's superb 100-metre world record of 9.69 and 19.30 in the
200-metre race, followed a year later by another world record of 9.58 in Berlin, bedazzled the crowds and the world. One commentator described it as athletic "poetry in motion". It had become crystal clear that Bolt was not just a track and field star. He was an extraordinary superstar.
But that was not the only thing that caught the world's attention. Usain Bolt's effervescent and pleasingly precocious style could not go unnoticed. The Jamaican was not just a superbly talented runner, he had a winning personality.
At the climax of the 100-metre race in Beijing, Bolt spontaneously introduced the world to the then popular Jamaican dance the "Gully Creepa", coupled with the "lightning bolt" symbol and the phrase, "Jamaica to the World". It was athletics and showmanship with a flair never before seen on the tracks, and the fans lapped it up.
It didn't take long for the "Bolt-isation" syndrome to spread. By the time the 4x100m relay took place in Beijing, the usually reserved Asafa Powell caught the fever and danced alongside Bolt at the end of the race. The Bolt-inspired standard for post-victory celebration had been set and the world would follow. After Beijing, athletes of every colour, creed and country began gyrating after their wins - high jumpers, long-distance runners, tennis players - it became the thing to do - proof positive of the "Bolt-isation" syndrome.
Usain Bolt has sprinkled his stardust across the planet, and everywhere that his foot touches earth, that spot erupts in excitement and expectation. His charismatic and contagious spirit has captivated people the world over.
Few athletes have achieved what Bolt has been able to do so successfully. In reflecting on his phenomenal global impact, the only other sportsman that came readily to my mind was the boxing great, Mohammad Ali. There is no doubt that Bolt has found himself in the company of a very small group of sporting icons who have stamped their brand on the world forever.
The story of Usain Bolt is particularly significant when one considers his humble beginnings. Born on August 21, 1986 in the small town of Sherwood Content in Trelawny to modest, working-class parents, Bolt's life should have followed the expected trajectory of the average young man born and raised in rural Jamaica - that part of the country characterised largely by poverty and differentiation.
Needless to say, young people in rural Jamaica find it difficult to break the inter-generational cycle of poverty and dispossession. The unequal nature of the formal education system coupled with the day-to-day social and economic demands that impact affordability and accessibility to the best schools are rural truisms and realities. Life after high school is equally challenging even for those who graduate from the better educational institutions.
Unemployment among the youth, and especially among rural youth, is a hurdle that young people in Jamaica struggle daily to overcome. As the option to seek urban employment diminishes, many young people, particularly males, are forced into criminal activities for livelihood and for survival. The revelations coming out of the recently publicised lotto scam is proof of the type of temptations that are enticing young people with little or no access to legitimate opportunities within the mainstream of society.
It is against this background that the story of Usain Bolt holds special significance, and makes the "Bolt-isation" syndrome, all the more remarkable. For this "country boy" to have the world following behind him is indescribably awesome. Doing the Bolt dance and making the "lightning bolt" symbol is now the thing to do, and everybody everywhere is doing it. Wow!
As I write, the news of Bolt's sizzling victory in London has blanketed the global airwaves. Bolt has again set another remarkable Olympic record of 9.63 in the 100-metre dash. What might be more difficult to measure, however, is the "Bolt-isation" factor which is undoubtedly and monumentally much, much bigger.
Congrats to all our athletes in London!