Our Debt to Usain Bolt!

How ironic if the fastest man on the planet should turn out to be exactly what the doctor ordered for simply beautiful St Lucia’s comatose tourism industry!
(Photo: David Pascal)

By reliable account, Jamaica was at the weekend on the minds and lips of some three billion people the world over, not to mention the countless spirits that keep us safe from hurricanes and earthquakes, at any rate most of the time. Especially uplifting was that for once talk of Jamaica was not associated with murder and mayhem and poverty and record drug hauls and egregiously crooked politicians. Not once did I hear someone, on TV or from behind a monster belly, bring up Cokes, coke or Vybz Kartel.
Never mind the sackload of gold around the neck of Michael Phelps, who is obviously more at home in water than on dry land (further proof of our fishy origins?). Never mind that a 16-year-old black gymnast had pulled off with apparent ease and mesmerizing balletic grace what until now had been unimaginable, yes, especially to members of her own race. With all the other possible and impossible miracles to be wrestled with while in the grip of Olympics fever, it seemed the weekend’s most important question centered on the speed of a lightning bolt. Bolt with a capital B, that is, as in Usain Bolt.
No need for details of the Jamaican’s unprecedented performance. Others far more qualified to discuss them than I will, over the next several weeks, be writing and babbling about whether Bolt was only 95 percent fit, his prospects down the road, the money he will likely earn. I have no doubt we’ll be hearing a lot about how, with all the training and equipment at their disposal, America’s athletes were left eating UK dirt at the flying heels of Jamaica’s sons and daughters.
For now, let us consider our own representatives at the Olympics. We might as well begin with this possibly unsettling question: Was Saint Lucia truly represented at the Games? Will the record indicate our presence in 2012? What will it say about the way our athletes performed in their respective disciplines?
I took in two related TV interviews last week, one conducted here by Claudius Francis, the other in the UK by HTS’ other Francis, Teddy. I was especially taken aback by the latter’s questions to Dani Beaubrun. If the intention was to broadcast the characteristically bubbly and confident Dani’s personal disappointment with her performance, then mission accomplished. The interview certainly did not reveal anything new about Dani: it offered not the smallest hint that recently she had lost her doting mother (and dedicated coach to several other young local swimmers) to cancer. I can say with authority that mother and daughter had looked forward with heart-pounding anticipation to being together in London. If memory serves, Karen never missed one of her talented daughter’s meets, regardless of venue. (See the latest SHE Caribbean magazine, now on newsstands!)
But then, perhaps I misjudge Teddy, undoubtedly one of our more proficient make-no-waves TV interviewers.  For all I know, perhaps he derived special pride in the fact that a still grieving but courageous Dani Beaubrun had actually made it a second time to an Olympics venue.
I know well enough the young woman’s circumstances to say with confidence that Dani went to London with her bruised champion’s heart set on taking a real shot at her event, as Karen would’ve wanted, even if that meant she only made the semi-finals. No serious athlete is ever satisfied with simply having been a participant in a race. Only loser nonstarters who will never know the joy of standing on a winner’s rostrum can possibly experience elation from just having been there on the sidelines.
Then there was Claudius’ singular contribution to the occasion. It was hard for me to tell, given their well-chronicled relationship, how serious was the interviewer when he said: “Prime Minister, we all watched you at the opening ceremony and I must say you looked absolutely athletic.” (Okay, so he may have used other words, but rest assured they conveyed the same adulation!)
In fairness to the prime minister, he laughed his customary ho-ho-ho Santa laugh before reacting, a little sheepishly, I thought: “C’mon, Claudius, don’t give me that.” But Straight-Up’s host was having none of that. “Well, anyway,” he persisted, “from our angle you looked quite athletic.”
Before long the prime minister was reliving with immeasurable pride—doubtless for the purposes of his local audience on the edge of their seats—the level of dignity and proud nationalism evinced in the way Levern Spencer carried the flag of Saint Lucia, followed by our similarly moved three other athletes. The prime minister was asked how he personally felt at the big moment when Levern & Company strode by. Not only did he feel bloated with even more pride and personal satisfaction, he said, HTS actually had footage of him standing on his feet and slapping his hands, as if indeed a local athlete had just set a new Olympic record. He assured Claudius that Saint Lucians throughout the UK felt exactly as he felt. After all, we’re a sports-loving people, aren’t we? Always have been, right?
When the governor-general took her turn at waving the flag from the Olympics site she too remembered to express her limitless exhilaration based on the presence of our athletes at the Games.
A Martian taking in the recalled TV interviews from his alien perch might easily have surmised the whole point to sports in Saint Lucia is to be present wherever the Olympic Games are held. From the earliest days of Desmond Brathwaite as sports minister, we had never talked about winning medals. It seems all we’ve ever wanted was the opportunity to say “I was there.” Bin there, if not dun that! The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Lest I be conveniently misunderstood: if it seems I have leveled unfair criticism at our athletes, let it be clearly understood that they are not my intended targets. On the contrary, in much the same way that the American people honor their gold, sliver and bronze Olympic winners with serious monetary rewards (tax-free $25,000 for gold!), so too we should reward the absolutely disadvantaged likes of Levern and Dani for their personal sacrifices in the name of sports in Saint Lucia.
Have we ever had attached to our sports ministry personnel whose main job is to discover at a very early age, nurture and promote athletes of talent? Is there a single local school with a gymnastics class, let alone a team? Quite apart from what we allegedly spend on playing fields, how much do we put into sports promotions? How much airtime do our sports ministries devote to sports development? Surely there’s a big difference between centers for public recreation and sporting facilities designed to attract and encourage future Olympians.
Apart from the politically charged annual sports awards ceremony, what? What important positions in the public service do we reserve for such as Levern, even on a temporary basis? At how many government functions is she invited as a special guest? It’s one thing for a phone company to place her image on its directory and quite another to have a blown-up picture of Levern in full flight prominently displayed at the sports ministry or at the nation’s sports Hall of Fame gallery. Oh, you say we don’t have a sports gallery!
Why do we invest millions in carnival and other increasingly problematic no-obvious-returns activities, albeit in the abused name of culture, and relatively nothing in our athletes with potential? Consider how many people from all over the world who would’ve decided, following Bolt’s 100-meter flash, to visit the miracle land of Jamaica. How many will choose instead to come to Saint Lucia, even over gold-medal winner Kirani James’ Grenada?
What better way to advertise recession-ravaged Jamaica as a one-of-a-kind tourist resort than for its athletes to create royal havoc at the Olympics? All of a sudden it seems everyone, yes, even pasty white guys like CNN’s Piers Morgan, is discussing straight-faced on TV the implied magical properties of the lowly Jamaican yam, jerk chicken and other Jamaican staples.
Meanwhile, the UK press, with nothing better to write about this Rock of Sages, concentrates on our “tin houses,” our unresolved homicides and our resorts with their electrocuting swimming pools!
With some luck, perhaps such bad news will be drowned out by Bolt’s recent confession to a UK newspaper that his favorite vacation spot, favorite foods and favorite people are all to be found right here in “simply beautiful!” Saint Lucia. It certainly wouldn’t hurt if we started spreading the word ourselves!

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