THE accomplishments of our 2013 World Athletics Champions should be praised in song, poetry, art and sculpture.
Statues have been mounted in honour of our past sports greats, with Independence Park boasting Donald Quarrie, Merlene Ottey, and a combination statue of Herb McKenley, George Rhoden, Arthur Wint and Les Laing. The magnificent sculpture at the main gate of the Stadium is that of Arthur Wint, known as the gentle giant of Jamaican athletics. Cricket lovers should also be reminded that a statue of George Headley, Jamaica's and the world's supreme batsman, is mounted at Sabina Park.
And at the home base of the athletes, tributes are paid to outstanding performers with wall murals dedicated to local heroes. Shelley-Ann's portrait in Waterhouse is a prime example.
But unless something is missing, I can't track any single outstanding and lasting musical accolade or poem that has been dedicated to the achievements of any of our athletes from Beijing to Berlin, to London to Moscow.
Usain Bolt released a musical video rap for himself, Faster Than Lightning, prior to the London Olympic Games, while gospel entertainer Ryan Mark has been quick off the mark with his Pocket Rock song in tribute to Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. A number of other athletes have been celebrated in song by deejays, including Mavado and Jah Cure. These efforts have been short-lived.
In earlier days, the celebratory songs left a more lasting note than the present ones which are made-for-the-market.
Perhaps because instant TV brings home to us instant action from those recent games, we may never again thrill to the type of odes and the poems that greeted the exploits of our former sports stars like Headley, Wint and McKenley. Where, may I ask, are the songwriters who composed calypsos tunes to the 1951 West Indies Test cricket victory over England? Think "Cricket, lovely cricket, at Lords, where I saw it".
In Headley's days, everywhere he went he was greeted with an ode or a poem. He became immortal -- scoring a century in each innings of a single Test match -- in his first Test series in 1930. On the way home from Trinidad, the ship carrying the cricketers stopped for a brief stay in Colon, Panama -- a non-cricket-playing country. To his and everyone's surprise, George was greeted by a banner poem in the Star & Herald of Panama, George Headley, Famed Cricketer.
Not only poets, but musicians and comedians would express their delight. But with only a few personal record players around, and one radio station, playing largely English music for a few hours per day in Jamaica, the printed poems and odes were very much the medium used for adulation.
Sometimes the poems were written in flourishing language and in the form of an acrostic -- a verse form that was popular in those days where the letters of the name start each line.
An ode to Headley by Lipton Swapp in 1930, the day after he became an immortal, read:
G reat youth! We hail thee, cricketer of fame
E ntering the rank "immortal" of the game
O f thee thy island home is truly proud
R ight glad we are to sing thy praise aloud
G allant batsman, Jamaica's pride and boast
E ver to thee shall we proffer this toast."
There was one famous sportsman who did not wait for writers to idolise him. Cassius Clay (later Mohammed Ali) was his own self-proclaimed poet laureate, and was not bashful about celebrating himself.
At the start of his professional career he began to compose poems predicting in what round he would win his fights and making fun of the people he fought.
It was the start of the golden era of heavyweight boxing with Clay's good looks and irrepressible personality making him one of the most popular persons across the planet. His extravagant poetry became as eagerly anticipated as his fights, with millions looking forward eagerly to his enthusiastic recitations inter-mixed with the comedic teasing of his opponent at press conferences, at weigh-ins, and on a best-selling long-playing record which he produced.
According to Clay, one of his first larger-than-life opponents, Archie Moore, would fall in four, so Clay "mouthpieced" to all and sundry: "When you come to the fight don't block the door, cause you'll all go home after Round Four." Moore went in four. Henry Cooper went in the predicted five. And so it went on to the delight of the waiting world.
Then came his immortal encounter with World Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston. This was the fight of the year, 1964, with 22-year-old Clay going after the fighter who many thought to be unbeatable. Liston was said to be the best heavyweight of all time, and a mean-tempered pugilist who had been arrested often, in some instances for armed robbery, and once for beating up a policeman.
Clay picked the eighth round to fell "the big bear", goading Liston at every opportunity, and even appearing on Liston's doorstep shouting that he was going "to whup the champion bad".
It was intimidation at its best, with Clay predicting what the first seconds of Round I action would be like: "Clay comes out to meet Liston and Liston starts to retreat,
if Liston goes back any further he'll end up in a ringside seat."
The rest of the poem was hilarious.
"Now Clay lands with a right, what a beautiful swing
And the punch lifts the Bear clear out of the ring
Liston is still rising and the ref wears a frown
Cause he can't start counting until Sonny comes down.
Now Liston is disappearing from view, the crowd is going frantic
But radar stations have picked him up somewhere over the Atlantic.
Who would have thought when they came to the fight
That they'd witness the launching of a human satellite".
It may not have been great poetry, but it worked. Liston sat down on his stool and refused to answer the bell for the seventh round. A new heavyweight champion, serenaded by his own incomparable lyrics, had arrived.
WHY DON'T THEY?
Here is one of my periodic "why don't they" thoughts. Why don't they try to persuade the Chinese government to carry out a complete makeover of the Trelawny Stadium -- which they built -- into an international sports training institute for all kind of sports, including athletics, cricket, football, tennis, swimming, netball, basketball, and others? With dormitories and rooms to accommodate students from around the world.
Name it the BOLT BEIJING Stadium, planting a bit of China in a prestigious sports setting halfway across the world, and guaranteeing a giant income and employment spin-off for Jamaica. And as an added plus, an incentive and attraction for Chinese tourists to take the 14-hour flight to Jamaica.
Lance Neita is a public relations and communications specialist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org