Usain, Yohan must stay on guard

Usain, Yohan must stay on guard

Saturday, January 28, 2012

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Among the more enduring photographs of 2011 is of the incomparable Mr Usain Bolt standing shoulder to shoulder with fellow Jamaican sprinter Mr Yohan Blake as they watched an on-screen rerun of Mr Blake's performance moments before at a meet in Belgium.

Eyes wide and hand over mouth, Mr Bolt looked suitably impressed. Mr Blake had just run 19.26 seconds over 200 metres — just 0.7 seconds off Mr Bolt's two-year-old world record and the second fastest time ever over that distance.

Back then, before then, and since, Mr Bolt has consistently, openly and with seeming honesty spoken of his admiration for Mr Blake. The latter has done likewise in relation to Mr Bolt. Both have consistently spoken of their friendship.

The cynics will argue that they could not be expected to say otherwise since they are training partners in the camp of that legendary coach Mr Glen Mills.

In that respect, it should come as no surprise to those of us who are familiar with how the media works that there are now news stories that are delicately, and not so delicately, exploring the rivalry between the camp mates.

We note one colourful quote attributed to a senior Caribbean athlete to the effect that "two male crabs" should not be expected to co-exist peacefully in the same "hole".

It is against all that background that Mr Bolt saw it necessary at the recent 2011 RJR Sports Foundation National Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year award ceremony to reaffirm that he and Mr Blake remain great friends even in rivalry.

"A lot of things have been stirring in the media so I just decided [when] I have a chance I would clear it up. It's good to have rivalry, but I think when you're trying to break up a friendship, that's the wrong way to go," Mr Bolt is quoted as saying.

"The rivalry will always be there because we're great athletes and we're going to be great competitors, but in training it's just hard work and we're friends and when we go out there it's a different story. If I win, Jamaica wins, and if Yohan wins, Jamaica wins, so it's good for the country anyway," he added.

That's well said. But we think it important to tell the two athletes as well as their handlers that media hype surrounding their rivalry, and even suggestions that there is covert hostility, won't go away.

As the Summer Olympics in London draw closer, they must expect more probing along those lines. How they respond to the myriad questions thrown at them will be crucial. They must think and choose their words carefully.

Those in administration at club level and in Jamaica's track and field should pay close attention. The seeds of destructive disunity are very easily sown.

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