Las’ lick for Bolt?

Lance Neita

Saturday, April 02, 2016

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As I write this column Andre Russell has just lifted Virat Kholi for six runs to give the West Indies an incredible victory over India in the World Cup semis. Jubilation all over the region — as improbable or no — this victory demonstrates a mettle that was lacking prior to the competition.


We were troubled as we pondered our fate following the Afghanistan debacle. But, for the first time in a long while, the team will be having our full backing as they go into the finals against England this morning.


You have heard that it has been said, it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. That’s not entirely so. This morning we are demanding that they must not only show us how to play the game, but how to win the game.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, win, lose or draw, the world’s attention will be turning to Usain Bolt who will certainly be the most watched athlete at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Brazil. Have you noticed the phenomenal build-up to the meet as Bolt’s chances on the track are rated by the sportscasters and the analysts from around the globe? His name and photo appear in almost every news item relating to the event, with interviews, speculation, predictions, bad cards, and huge wagers promising Bolt frenzy come August 2016.


His main rival Justin Gatlin has already thrown down the gauntlet. "I am going to win" he tells the world press; "And what is more, I have already made plans for my gold medal." But it’s not only Gatlin who is after the crown. Watch the American media aiming their darts at Bolt as they seek to discredit him and at the same time tout any runner with the faintest chance of entering the warm-up area with Bolt. Gatlin will be their front man, but the amazingly fast and precocious youngster Trayvon Bromell, at 22 years, and the Canadian Andre DeGrasse (21 years) have already had their hats thrown into the ring by the powerful media backers.


In spite of Bolt’s supreme confidence and his unbeatable performances, the story is being pushed that he is old enough to be beaten — he will be 30 on August 21 — and the younger legs pumping behind him will be enough to give the world a new champion — and not please, oh, please, not from upstart Jamaica. Yet, if the unspeakable were to happen, the world would still have to put up with Yohan Blake, who has a best time of 9.69 seconds, and a host of other future Jamaican world beaters who are being churned out on the track at the National Stadium each year.


But right now it’s Boltmania all over the planet. A prestigious British film company is expected to film a feature- length documentary on Bolt, titled
I am Bolt. It will follow his journey through training in Jamaica, his Diamond League performances wherever he decides, his achievements in Rio, and a follow-up on his retirement activities after the Olympics. Yes, he has announced that this will be his last Olympics. This has only added fuel to the Olympic flame, as who wouldn’t want to have a last lick at the great one? But be careful, Bolt was a champion ‘las’ lick’ schoolboy when he used to ‘ramp’ as a youngster growing up in the Trelawny countryside.


So, right now it’s Bolt at 9.79 last year, Gatlin at 9.80. They say Bolt has false-started once too often, that his world record of 9.58 was set way back in 2009, and that he is a much older man since then. But in a world where the game has been discredited and coloured by drugs, Bolt stands tall, untainted by any charges, and a role model for clean training. He has easily shrugged off all the 100-metre wannabes and announced that he is going for under 19 seconds in the 200 metres this year. He set the current 19.19 record in 2009 at the Berlin World Championships. "Gatlin says he is coming for me," he says with a laugh, "but he is looking down the wrong lane. And tell him that this year I am even more focused."


Nevertheless, we would like to see more of Bolt on the tracks in the pre-Olympics warm-ups. We are certain of a Diamond League repeat in London in July, but Glen Mills seems to be keeping the lid on him. Mark you, when Usain decides to ‘drop legs’ at Tracks and Records he puts as much physical into his dance steps as he does while training.


As for me, I have to be careful how I call my shots this year. Jamaica will hold its breath when Bolt steps out for the 100-metre final in Brazil. I made the mistake of playing Doubting Thomas prior to his start in 2012. Les Talbot of Ultimate fame was beside me, expressing full confidence in a gold. I still have to live down my wrong call — never mind the several drinks I had to buy to pay for my mistake.


Apart from Bolt, Jamaica’s wealth of talent is unparalleled. While the spotlight has been on the men, our women have performed splendidly over the many years of international competition. Kathleen Russell, Jamaica’s first champion female sprinter, and Hyacinth Walters, long jumper, made up the female contingent in the Helsinki Olympics in 1952.


Unfortunately Walters failed to qualify while an injured Russell was hospitalised for four days after sustaining a back injury during the heats. So determined was Russell that she discharged herself from the hospital to go to the stadium to watch the final event which featured a record-breaking Jamaica in the 4x400.


Memory recalls Carmen Smith and Una Morris winning silver and bronze, respectively, at the Commonwealth Games in Kingston in 1966, while in 1970 Marilyn Neufville’s name was on everyone’s lips when she won gold in the 400 metres. Our women continued to sparkle, with 20-year-old Merlene Ottey winning her first Olympic medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Ottey went on to shine in meet after meet, setting the pace for sister relay runners Grace Jackson, Leleith Hodges, Jacqueline Pusey, and Juliet Cuthbert in later years. Ottey was still in form come the 1991 World Championships in Japan, sharing the 4x100 metres gold with Dahlia Duhaney, Cuthbert and Beverly McDonald. Ottey and Cuthbert continued to dominate in the early 90s, joined later by Michelle Freeman and Nikole Mitchell.


The year 1997 was when Deon Hemmings won the Olympic 400m hurdles. The list seemed endless with Aleen Bailey, Merlene Frazer, Peta-Gaye Dowdie coming onto the scene in the 1999 World Championships. Since then we have watched in awe as Jamaican women continue to dominate all the major track events in the 21st century. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Veronica Campbell-Brown, Sherone Simpson, Bridgitte Foster-Hylton, Elaine Thompson, Kerron Stewart, Rosemarie Whyte, Sherefa Lloyd, Natasha Morris, Christine Day, Novelene Williams-Mills, to name a few.


Still, it’s going to be Bolt’s year, and his will be the most recognisable face on international television. He is a fine ambassador for Jamaica, with a strong, upright, value-focused family background rooted in rural Jamaica. I gather that the only show that can rival any of Bolt’s interviews right now are the Indian soap operas that have captured Jamaican attention and heart strings. Apparently work stops in some business places at whatever the time in order to watch. It’s a kind of soapmania sweeping the country, where even slangs and phrases from the show have crept into our lexicon. When Jamaicans latch on to a popular show we don’t let go too easily. Earlier generations used to huddle around their radios in the 1950s to catch the Lou and Ranny Show, live from the stage of the Carib Theatre every Wednesday night.


Before the television era there were other radio shows which kept tongues wagging the following day, such as the Jamaican drama
Shadows of the Great House, written by Carmen Manley, the American soaps Portia Faces Life and Second Spring, the British comedy Life with the Lyons, the Jamaican Lannaman’s Children Hour, and the
Children’s Birthday Club compered by Dotty Dean. Later in the evening the older folks would settle down to a half-hour with the crooner Bing Crosby. But as far as the younger ones were concerned, give us the Friday evening Treasure Isle Time with Duke Reid, and then in later years Charlie Babcock twanging away on Radio Jamaica as the"Cool Fool with the live jive", while from down the road JBC radio dished out the top Jamaican hits on Teenage Dance Party.


The world will be a busy place this year. It is absolutely amazing that a little island like Jamaica will command the attention of millions around the globe. As the black, green and gold gets on its mark for the 100-metre final in the Joao Havelange Stadium on August 14, 10:25am, the world will go quiet. You won’t hear a pin drop. All eyes on Bolt. All eyes on Jamaica. And I can assure my friend from Ultimate that I am confident that the big man will deliver again in 2016.





Lance Neita is a community and public relations writer and specialist. Send comments to the Observer or
lanceneita@hotmail.com.


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