Columns

Why that Washington Post attack on Bolt?

Diane Abbott

Sunday, August 12, 2012    

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JAMAICA'S track and field stars had a stellar Olympics. But I was shocked to see that days after Usain Bolt won the 100 metres final, the respected American newspaper the Washington Post carried a thoroughly specious article speculating as to whether Bolt was taking performance-enhancing drugs.

The title was 'Bolt can outrun everything except suspicion'. The writer, Mike Wise, claimed that "everyone" he spoke to wanted to know whether Bolt was clean. This was a strange thing to say because even the notoriously savage British press had raised no such suspicions.

Wise then went on to make completely false claims about different drug-testing standards in the Caribbean. He talked about Bolt's blood and urine samples "presumably" being tested by the official drug laboratory, as if there was any doubt about it. After all this speculation the writer concluded grudgingly, "For what it's worth, I believe Bolt is clean." But then he added, as if there was still a shadow of suspicion hanging over the Olympian, "For track, the Games and beyond he NEEDS to be clean".

What is shocking about this article is the fact that the writer saw it fit to speculate at length about whether Bolt is on drugs, before conceding there is no evidence of this. It was as if the American writer was determined to tarnish the Jamaican's triumph. I was not the only person affronted by this crude attempt to smear Bolt; there was an outcry by readers. So days later the Washington Post changed the title of the article to 'Usain Bolt deserves awe, not suspicions'.

The title may be less offensive, but the article, with its baseless smears and insinuations remains, on the Washington Post website. And there will be some readers who believe there's "no smoke without fire".

Obviously, one reason an American newspaper is quick to try to accuse Bolt of taking performance-enhancing drugs is that the practice is so rife in North American track and field. Ben Johnson, Marion Jones and Justin Gatlin are just some of the names that come to mind.

But there also seems to be an unwillingness to accept that the Jamaicans are just better. Nowhere in his article did the Washington Post writer acknowledge the excellence of the training offered in Jamaica; the dedication of the athletes; the huge public enthusiasm for track and field amongst the Jamaican public; or Jamaica's long history of excellence in athletics. Instead, the writer prefers to imply that if tiny Jamaica can beat the United States, there must be something dubious about it.

The truth is that Jamaican trainers like Glen Mills have shown they can get world-class results. But some Americans, like the Washington Post writer, cannot bring themselves to acknowledge this.

The American dedication to winning at all costs can sometimes make them sound like bad losers. But Jamaica's athletes can afford to ignore the carping of critics. I was in the stadium last Sunday when Bolt won the 100 metres. I will never forget the welcome the 60,000-strong crowd gave him and the rapturous way they chanted Usain Bolt's name when he triumphed. Millions of people around the world are in no doubt: Usain Bolt is the greatest.

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