Oral Tracey: Comedian or commentator?

Oral Tracey: Comedian or commentator?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

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WHEN Usain Bolt, in one of his playful modes at the recent World Championships in Daegu, peered into the television camera to send a message to TVJ's Oral Tracey to "stop talk 'bout me", he, as his teammate Asafa Powell had done previously in Berlin, showed that they were paying attention to Tracey's nightly sports commentary.

In the comparatively short time since Tracey's introduction to the medium, he appears to have acquired some popularity with local audiences, and now that the programme has had a reasonably sustained run, it should be interesting to see whether this is reflected in the annual media surveys.

For better or worse, Tracey's programme remains the only regular news/sports commentary of its kind on either of our two television stations. Irreverent, indecorous, opinionated and funny, Tracey has attracted as many fans as he has detractors. What is interesting is that some television viewers appear irritated by his taunts of some of our sports icons, like Asafa Powell.

This is evident from the several letters to the editor and public comments on the TVJ website, castigating Tracey for some of his more unkind remarks. Perhaps these viewers should bear in mind that television is inextricably linked with entertainment and as such, not always to be taken seriously.

Of course, many important educational messages are best delivered in an entertaining format, but I would hardly credit Tracey's barbs and jibes with such elevated objectives.

While he may have received more criticism than praise for his taunting of Asafa, even some of Tracey's strongest critics believe that his biting comments most likely had a motivating effect on the sprinter. Indeed, one of the most memorable aspects of the 2009 Berlin World Championships was the image of Asafa sending a silent message to Tracey as he warmed up immediately prior to the start of the 100 metres finals.

Before that experience, I can't recall seeing the sprinter in a more aggressive mood at the start of a race in a world games. None of the sprinter's critics will deny that his was a fighting performance to the finish line in Berlin that earned him the bronze behind the world-record performance of Bolt followed by Tyson Gay.

What was interesting to local fans was that in the weeks leading up to that performance, Tracey had pledged to tape his mouth shut, during one of his commentaries, if Asafa were to win a medal against his predictions. Tracey honoured his bet and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

To a lesser extent, Bolt became Tracey's new target prior to the Daegu Championships, and unusually, the then in form Asafa was his pick for the gold medal in the absence of Tyson Gay. Hence, it was Bolt who later sent him a message from Daegu while Asafa, whom he subsequently taunted for 'ducking out' once again, became the butt of his needling.

Much of what Tracey says in his five minutes of fame is pure comedy, even if he gets it right sometimes. His wrap-up comment on the World Championships is a case in point. In his own inimitable way he rated Jamaica's track and field performance as 'goodish' as distinct from 'outstanding' or 'very good'.

This was another occasion when one can't be sure whether he wished to be taken seriously or was striving for humour and controversy. No one can argue that the team could have done better under ideal situations comparable to what happened in Beijing, or even better in Berlin. Besides having everything going in our favour, nearly everyone was peaking on target. That was definitely not the case in Daegu.

As others have noted, Jamaicans have become so spoilt by our track and field champions that we sometimes demand the impossible. As the countdown to the start of the Daegu meet began, the more knowledgeable track and field fans would have been more than a little concerned, given the reports of injuries in the camp. The athletes would have to be forgiven if their mood was further depressed, following Bolt's disqualification from the 100 metres, even though Yohan Blake covered himself in glory at the end of that race.

True, there are warriors like Melaine Walker who overperforms against all odds, but those are uniquely rare individuals. When one considers that of our four class female sprinters, only Veronica Campbell Brown was in form while all four top US sprinters were in peak condition, so too Trinidad and Tobago's national champion Kerry Ann Baptiste, Jamaica did excellently to emerge with one gold and three silver medals in the related events.

Tracey also levelled heavy criticism at Leford Green for surrendering a lead of 8-10 metres in the 4x400 metres relay. But it was ludicrous to believe that our team, with only one sub-45 man, could hold off a storming, in-form USA anchor who had the world-leading time, or even South Africa who had the world's fastest 400 metres hurdlers on the anchor leg.

Here again, the mile relay team did excellently in breaking our national record and earning the bronze medal, the first medal-winning performance by this team in many years. In fact, I cannot think of one form athlete on Jamaica's team who did not step up to the plate.

What was even more significant in the team's favour was that the four gold medals they accounted for were bested only in Berlin and Beijing, widely acclaimed watershed moments for the country. So while I may agree with Tracey that the team may not have been as outstanding in Daegu as they were in Berlin and Beijing, that they did again show their class by achieving yet another outstanding, international headline-grabbing performance, deserves a far better rating than 'goodish'.

It is comments like those which Tracey's critics find irritating rather than rated for their comic value, as perhaps they should be.

Tracey's strength as a commentator is not so much in the information he delivers, but the entertaining way in which he manages to so do. Certainly, as an entertainer, I rate him as outstanding. Having said that, however, it would be interesting to see the next all-media survey commissioned by TVJ itself or the Media Association of Jamaica, singling out sports commentary for analysis as it does some of its other programmes.

Currently TVJ posts the results of its 2010 study on its website, which must be annoying to its competitors. The interesting point, though, is not just that it outperforms its competitors in every aspect of news and sports, but the extent to which it does this.

The 2010 evaluation of television presenters gives a breakdown of 59, 30 and 11 per cent in favour of TVJ. Besides wondering about the nature of the questions posed and timing, I would love to see a further breakdown that includes Tracey's Sports Commentary.

Last week, I drew attention to some of the reports carried in the international press about the recently concluded World Championships. This week I am compelled to draw attention to some pretty amazing comments published in the US Sports Illustrated magazine, dated September 11, that overwhelmingly favoured Jamaica, even though the dominant photo imagery, understandably, favoured US athletes.

"At the core of this year's worlds were two distinct track meets; the one in which Bolt became Bolt again and the one in which Team USA, led by sprinters Jeter and Felix, showed that it can still devour a medal table. First Bolt. He is not simply the biggest name in track and field; he is the only name in track and field for all but hard-core fans, famous as much for what he does just before the gun as after it."

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