Jamaica's homegrown Olympic glory
The exploits of our Team Jamaica in the London 2012 Olympics have enriched our Golden Jubilee. For us praying people, it was providential. How could it be that on the actual anniversary date, August 6, we saw Usain Bolt getting the gold, his team-mate Yohan Blake the silver, and two Jamaican flags ascending to the strains of our National Anthem in our former mother country? The day before, our "Pocket Rocket" Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and our beloved Veronica Campbell Brown received gold and bronze. Our crowning glory was the 1-2-3 of Bolt, Blake and newcomer Warren Weir in the 200 metres - all three flagpoles waved black, green and gold!
What is even more significant is that our team members, with a few exceptions, were trained right here in our sunny isle. Usain Bolt's book, Usain Bolt - My Story, describes a decent, humble Jamaican upbringing in Sherwood Content, Trelawny, with a supportive family, teachers and coaches.
"My happy personality and laid-back style which the public sees is not an act," writes Usain Bolt. "It is exactly how I am away from athletics and comes from the way I was brought up. Mom and Dad would never go around cussing or arguing ... Dad was big on discipline and respect to him for that, because it's what made me the person I am today."
Bolt describes his Dad as "a rules man": "To make sure I was never late for school he would get me up at 5.30 am, even though William Knibb - which was half-an-hour's drive away - started at 8 am." He speaks fondly of his Aunt Lilly who still gives him yam from her farm, his late grandfather who would treat him to huge helpings of fresh, warm milk each week. He is close to his maternal grandmother who "prays the whole time" when he leaves her to drive to Kingston "and I have to ring her the minute I get there".
Jennifer and Wellesly Bolt are the opposite of those shady parents who live high on scamming children. Usain writes, "They have never lived a grand life and didn't want to move to some flashy place away from the community, so I've helped them extend their house ... My Dad is weird, he doesn't like to ask for anything and prefers to work for his money. Mom will ask but that might only be for the bus fare back to Trelawny from Kingston."
Bolt's parents are helpful and courteous members of their community: "Long before I was famous they were both well known in the community, and would help anyone out. Dad always had a 'Good Morning' and a 'Good Afternoon' for everyone, which is how I learned to be well-mannered and polite."
The book includes a piece by coach Glen Mills, the man who trained the three Jamaicans - Bolt, Yohan Blake and Warren Weir - who stunned the world with their clean sweep last Thursday. "My attitude towards coaching is not one-dimensional; it is also geared towards acquiring life skills," says Coach Mills. "I've tried to get them to understand the skills and values of life. So that they not only fulfil their potential as athletes but are also balanced people."
Coach Mills was put in charge of Bolt after the athlete's disappointing outing in the 2004 Olympics and his pulling up in the 2005 Helsinki World Championships. Mills' strategy of running Bolt against his major competitors met with "fierce opposition".
"When the rest of the world condemned us, following his numerous defeats, I felt assured that my strategy was justified, as Usain did not question my method," says Mills. After the Beijing Olympics and Berlin World Championships, Coach Mills was still not satisfied: "We are about 75 per cent along the way of what we're aiming to do, but a major part of what we have to do is to develop a greater deal of explosive strength." We are seeing the development in Usain's physique - those sparkling seconds take years of hard work.
Usain Bolt's humility is well-known. It was reflected in his interview with Daily Mail reporter Laura Williamson after winning the 100-metre event as he reflected on being beaten twice in the National Trials by his team-mate Yohan Blake: "The trials gave me a wake-up call. Yohan knocked on my door and said, 'Usain, this is Olympic year.' So I'm grateful for that."
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is from the inner-city community of Waterhouse in Kingston where she had a strong Christian upbringing, evidenced in her post-race testimony. The Wolmer's graduate continued her studies at UTech in a degree programme even as she trained for the Olympics. Veronica Campbell Brown has been an enduring role model - we will never forget her gold in the Athens and Beijing Olympics. Nor can we forget Brigitte Foster-Hylton's and Melaine Walker's past stellar performances.
After the euphoria, we hope that JAMPRO will be given a mandate to examine the opportunities presented by Jamaica's athletic stardom and transform them into job-creating projects for sustainable development.
Usain Bolt's publicist Carole Beckford wants us to join with our high-performing Caribbean neighbours to create "a Caribbean oasis of athletics". She wrote on her blog, "With agencies like CEDA, Caricom ... we can make this happen. Drop the politics! We have tons of Caribbean people who are great influencers ... to get this train running." Let's roll.
Farewell, Father Jim Webb
This column has celebrated Canadian Jesuit Father Jim Webb who passed away last week as "God's Intrepid Activist". Among his many contributions to Jamaica are the founding of CAFFE, the creation of farming and housing cooperatives, the upgrading of St Peter Claver Primary, the widening of the mission of St George's and Campion colleges and the mentoring of five young Jamaican Jesuits. "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Correction re Vilma McDonald
In last week's column I named erroneously a notable member of the management of Carifesta as Vilma Charlton when in fact I meant Vilma McDonald, financial whiz, former captain of our national netball team and perennial volunteer. The two high-performing Vilmas have a joke about constantly being mistaken for each other.