THE Ugly American is a novel written in the late 1950s which carries a central theme that has evolved over the years (or devolved) into an American believing that he is exceptional and that other cultures are not even worth the time spent trying to understand them.
Former American Olympian Carl Lewis easily fits into that slot.
In 1984, the decade when many American athletes and the Eastern Europeans were charged up on drugs, Lewis won four gold medals, including the two sprint medals at the Olympics. Give him credit for that.
At the 1988 Olympics Lewis took silver in the 200 metres and also, for a brief moment, silver in the 100 behind the Canadian (Jamaican-born) Ben Johnson. A few minutes later Johnson was stripped of his medal after his system was found to be overloaded on a performance-enhancing drug. Lewis was awarded the gold and was lauded for capturing the back-to-back 100 metres title.
During that decade, one special Jamaican woman — Merlene Ottey — found herself on the wrong side of gold medal history. The rumours were many that the Eastern Europeans and some of the Americans were ‘juiced up’, but proving it was next to impossible. We were the sprats and they were the big money tiger sharks.
Years passed and the rumours refused to die down.
In July of this year, Carl Lewis was championing the merits of his fellow Americans, Gay and Gatlin, and predicting that the Americans would sweep the sprints. No sweat there for his squaddies, even in the face of compelling evidence that a Bolt/Blake combination was likely to throw a big spanner in the machinery of that prediction.
But he went further. He began to point his fingers at the Jamaicans, said that Bolt was too good to be the genuine article and more than hinted that our athletic system was weak on drug testing. Remember now, no one else was complaining. Not the international bodies, not the IAAF, not any committee allied to the Olympics. Only Carl Lewis.
It is not generally known that at a time when the vast majority of our athletes were developing their natural talent through athletic scholarships offered to US universities, it was Lewis whose complaints convinced US universities to adopt an athletic scholarship quota system. Fifty per cent to Americans, 50 per cent to foreigners.
Ironically, it was to pay off in heavy dividends to us as we began to develop our own, home-based athletics programme.
In an article titled, ‘Lewis: No Scholarships for Foreigners’ in the Inquirer of June 3, 1994, it was stated, ‘Eight-time Olympic champion Carl Lewis lashed out yesterday at US universities who offer scholarships and financial aid to foreign athletes.
“We are bankrolling the world Olympic movement when we should be helping our Olympic movement,” Lewis told Reuters news agency in an interview at the NCAA Track and Field championships in Boise, Idaho, where he is helping to coach the University of Houston’s 400-metre relay team.
“In the 1976 Olympics, I don’t know of any African sprinters in the finals of the 100 or 200,” Lewis said. “In 1992, there were three in the 100, and they ended up second, sixth and eighth.”
At that time American coaches would regularly visit Champs in Jamaica to scout for talent. After the highly influential Lewis sounded off, the talent hunt was severely curtailed.
In the same article, he attempted to polish off his sentiments.
‘Lewis said he was not opposed to foreign athletes attending US universities.
“That would be prejudice,” he said. “I hope we have a million foreigners. It helps competition, it helps track and field get better. But I don’t believe we should support other people’s Olympic movements, and that’s what we are doing. If the foreign athletes want to come and pay their own way, or have their country help them, that’s fine. But the money from scholarships needs to go to American kids.”
Thanks, Carl Lewis.
Our heavily tested athletes have totally messed up Lewis’s predictions and one can only speculate when he will launch another damp squib and what will be its nature. It’s already claimed that a UFO landed in Sherwood Content in Trelawny in 1986 and deposited little baby Usain there.
The UFO came from the planet Krypton. Plus, we all know that the demons of yam, green bananas, ackee and baked ripe plantains have been travelling with Bolt for years.
What else is left for you to say or do, Carl Lewis? It is not too late to yield to the gods of humility and in graciousness, stand in a long line, pick up your telephone and try to seek audience with the real legend that Mr Usain St Leo Bolt is. Bolt is cool and he will take your call, but only for the apology.
After that, you, Carl Lewis, will be free to relax and stew in your xenophobia and envy, because those terrible traits are really what are at the heart of your troubling concerns.
Puma must up the ante
I have no idea what the fine print is like in the contract that Bolt has with Puma, but shares in the company cannot be ruled out.
Usain stands atop the world at this time and he needs to strike while the iron is hot. Again. Before he renews his contract I would suggest he makes a pitch for a one-and-a-half per cent share in the company. Foolhardy? Maybe, but a legend must think outside of the box while he is still young.
Another legend, Jesse Owens, was the first athlete to wear Puma footwear. That was in 1936. Many years after his Olympic career, Owens was close to penury and forced to do crazy things to survive. One of the craziest was chasing after racehorses.
He said then, “People say that it was degrading for an Olympic champion to run against a horse, but what was I supposed to do? I had four gold medals, but you can’t eat four gold medals.”
None of that must ever happen to Usain Bolt. He must now begin to adopt the prophetic words of Bob Marley and begin working towards realising that prophecy — ‘Not one a my seed shall sit on the sidewalk and beg bread.’
Bolt is the face of athletics and he is now firmly a global man, a Jamaican, global brand. The young man has the leverage to negotiate just any contract to his suiting. He must not be short-changed by anyone.
He is right up there with Bob Marley and some say, he has eclipsed the Gong. I say, they are from different eras and represent different aspects of what Jamaica is. As to who is bigger?
Time will tell.
Bolt is alive, well, and has brought glory to himself and his country. He is worth 20 prime ministers, 50 senior magistrates and 1,000 parsons preaching from the pulpit. He can hold 5,000 DJs in the palm of one hand while fiddling with his earbuds and the punch of a reggae beat.
At this time, he is all that is good about Jamaica, but more than that, he is indicative of where all of us can reach in our respective roles in life.
I wish him, young Blake, Shelly-Ann, and the stripling, Warren Weir, who ran his heart out, better tomorrows and long life.
You have all elevated us to believing in a better part of ourselves. The nation bows to you all.