Editorial

Mr Bolt's admirable instinct to do the right thing

Monday, August 07, 2017

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The extraordinary talent which has made him the universally accepted 'greatest sprinter of all time' is obviously a major reason for Mr Usain Bolt's immense popularity globally.

But it's more than that. Truthfully, Mr Bolt has that enviable, difficult to define quality referred to as charisma which attracts followers in droves.

His great sense of fun, which inspired his archer-like 'to di world' pose, his humility, capacity to relax regardless, his understanding that people shouldn't take themselves too seriously, have all contributed to his aura.

But on Saturday evening at the IAAF World Championships in London, immediately after the great but controversial athlete Mr Justin Gatlin “rained” on what was planned to be Mr Bolt's triumphant farewell parade as an individual competitor, we saw another intriguing aspect. Mr Bolt demonstrated an instinctive feel and consideration for others which his followers may well have sensed all along.

Mr Gatlin has had to deal with public hostility since his return to athletics in 2010 from a ban for steroids use — cut from eight years to four. So the contemptuous jeering experienced in London was not new to him.

Now, in his moment of triumph, Mr Gatlin responded to the crowd's dislike. He lifted a finger to his lips, a gesture interpreted by the many thousands packed into the London Stadium as being meant to mock and disrespect them. It was the wrong thing to do and the massed thousands let Mr Gatlin know it.

At that unreal, watershed moment, as the crowd shouted his name in acclamation, while refusing to acknowledge Mr Gatlin's triumph, Mr Bolt could simply have gone with the flow.

He could have walked away towards his adoring fans, preparatory to his farewell lap.

But deep down Mr Bolt's instincts told him that would be the wrong thing to do. So, instead, he went against the flow and approached the gold medal winner who, to his credit, went on bended knee.

Photos of the warm, lengthy embrace that followed may come to be more representative of that remarkable night in London, than that of Mr Gatlin breasting the tape first. We are told by Mr Gatlin of being comforted by his great rival — words to the effect that he did not deserve the crowd's disrespect.

To be fair, public hostility to Mr Gatlin has solid basis. There is talk, for instance, of scientific findings that the performance-enhancing benefits of steroids last for many years after entering the body. Hence the claim the American should have been banned for life. But Mr Bolt knew that Mr Gatlin did not make the rules. And further that the American had done the hard, painful work, pushing his 35-year-old body to the limit, to reach a necessary level of fitness that Mr Bolt, by his own admission, had not achieved in his final season of competitive athletics. Over recent years, Mr Bolt, in his own words, had also come to respect and admire Mr Gatlin, not only as a “great competitor” but as a “good person”.

Even as they booed and jeered Mr Gatlin, the London crowd knew deep down that their hero had done the right thing by embracing the man they loved to hate. Such are the contradictions of human nature, that they loved Mr Bolt even more for that instinctive gesture of human kindness. On this, our 55th anniversary as a sovereign nation, so do all Jamaicans.

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