Opportunity in Mr Bolt's star power

Saturday, August 04, 2012    

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If, perchance, there remained any Jamaican who doubted the star power of Mr Usain Bolt, they need only read the lead story in this week's Sunday Observer and Mr Don Anderson's account in Monday's Observer of the crowd frenzy associated with Mr Bolt's walk from the Athletes' Village to the Olympics Opening Ceremony last Friday night.

Our story on Sunday reported that Mr Bolt was being mobbed by athletes from other countries who either wanted his autograph or to take photos with him, both in the village and at the Opening Ceremony. The upshot is that four of his physically large teammates -- Messrs Jason Morgan, discus thrower; Dorian Scott, shot putter; Leford Green 400m hurdler; and Maurice Smith decathlete -- have had to be performing bodyguard duties for the sprint double world record holder and Olympic champion.

In his account of the event, Mr Anderson, the chef de mission of the Jamaica team, said he had never before seen anyone being cheered and shouted after for the one-mile journey to the Opening Ceremony.

"Schoolchildren and adults lined the route in thousands, and we heard cheers of 'Usain Bolt, Usain Bolt' the whole way. I mean, the noise was deafening and the cheers went on non-stop," Mr Anderson wrote.

"Autograph hunters, people who just wanted to touch his hands, people who just wanted to see him, thronged the place," Mr Anderson added.

We've seen over the past four years the almost insane level of public adoration for Mr Bolt worldwide. In fact, a mind-boggling indication of his popularity rests in the fact that he now has more than seven million Facebook fans.

Add to that the fact that major international firms have been knocking on his door with lucrative endorsement deals and you can appreciate his star power and global appeal.

But even with all that, we didn't expect that Mr Bolt would be mobbed by his contemporaries. However, what stuck us most about that experience was Mr Bolt's reaction, as told by Mr Anderson.

"He obliged and worked the show," Mr Anderson wrote. "He ran along the barrier, touching hands, playing with his supporters and taking photos with them. He danced his way down the road, ran up to something that looked like a ref's chair at a tennis match and sat; and of course, he did his famous pose."

According to Mr Anderson, "athletes from other countries walking the route left their delegations and found their way amongst us just wanting a photo op with him and he obliged".

What that suggests to us is that Mr Bolt, while perfectly aware of his popularity, is even more conscious of the fact that he's an ambassador for Jamaica, and as such is winning more friends for the island with his affability.

We saw him doing just that in Italy a few months ago when, after winning the 100 metres, he was handed an Italian flag by a spectator and, instead of ignoring the gesture, he hoisted the standard as he made his way around the stadium.

Some Jamaicans questioned his action, but we submit that they misunderstood his intention. For with that gesture alone, Mr Bolt won hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of supporters for Jamaica. And that, we hold, is playing out at the Olympic Games now on in London, as reports out of that city have informed us that the Jamaican team received the loudest cheers on their entry into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony.

The task now is for our tourism marketers to convert that support into visitor traffic. We have the creative genius to do so.





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