By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
August 09, 2012
He was like a lightning bolt and his playfulness made him even more human, a star that descended from above to share a human moment with us. I would have given anything to be at the Olympic Stadium to share in this once-in-a-lifetime moment with this great star. But, like so many others, I had to enjoy the moment in front of a flat screen and that was alright by me.
For a moment it was hard to believe it; five of the eight of the fastest men in the world were from the Caribbean. Three were from Jamaica (Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Asafa Powell); one from Trinidad (Richard Thompon); and another from Curaçao (Churandy Martina). The three other brothers were from the United States. I also took pride in the fact that Trinidad was represented in this great event. Even Thompson ran his race under ten seconds, something unheard of a few years ago. So let us give praise. He was there and represented us well.
There was something else about the bolt and how the world embraced him. The London Times carried a magnificent photograph of him on their front page draped in his Jamaica colors, unraveling his bow and pointing it upwards toward the sky. It reminded us of Nicolas Adam’s 1762 sculpture of Prometheus that captures the Greek hero in search of human excellence and scientific knowledge.
It takes science at its creative best to win the 100 meters and Beijing and in London, the first man to do so in history. His Jamaican sister, Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce did a similar thing the previous night to the applause of the entire stadium. One report in the London Times says of Bolt’s victory, “The rising sound of the wind in the Caribbean was temporarily drowned out by a cacophony of car horns as residents took to the street waving flags with abandon to celebrate a famous victory by one of their own.”
Bolt’s victory lit up not only the Caribbean. It was one of Britain’s most televised events. Twenty million viewers watched the event. According to London’s Evening Standard, Bolt’s sprint “attracted the biggest TV audience of the Games so far and means that total viewing figures for the weekend of athletics glory hit 36 million in Britain alone, two thirds of the viewing population.”
Boris Johnson, mayor of London, told the Standard: “To watch Usain Bolt is to be a witness to history…If that isn’t a legacy to inspire the millions watching throughout the land, the billions tuning across the planet, I ask you, what is.”
Other Caribbean athletes came through. Kirani James claimed Grenada’s first gold medal in winning the 400 meters; Luguelín Santos from the Dominican Republic took silver and our own Lalonde Gordon took bronze in that event.
Looking at the magnificent efforts by our athletes I wonder if it would have made a difference if we had poured more of our resources into developing our abilities rather than pouring billions of dollars in things that are not likely to have significant impact on the lives of our young people as the outstanding performances of all athletes are likely to have on them.
The performances of our athletes allow older citizens to feel a sense of nationalist pride, to lift our heads high and say that in spite of the human misery around us we can still maintain some dignity in a world in which, more and more, we are having less and less control.
But, our younger ones need wholesome role models. Their achievements say to them there is a whole world of glory awaiting them if they only put their minds to a task and do it. Like Bolt, it is so much about believing in one self and one’s abilities. When many persons doubted his ability and asked if he could do it again, he just laughed and said: “I am not concerned. I have said it from the start, people can talk, all they can do is talk.”
And then I think of Tarouba and the millions of dollars that we sank into an unusable—rarely used facility. Think about what we could have done, if we had spent those dollars, organizing the country by counties; searching into the tiniest creeks looking for talented young people; employing the best coaches to train them; competing every year regionally and nationally and the effect it would have on their psyches. Right now, so much of the energies of our young people, particularly our black males, go into so much negative activities. It might just be a revelation to see what the results might have been if those energies were diverted into positive activities, year round.
This is not a problem for which the PP is responsible even though I am sure that bringing Shaq O’Neal to Trinidad for two days is not likely to change anything. But if the PNM failed to change the intellectual and scientific culture of the society, it is not too late for the PP to do something about it.
Perhaps, this might be the time to do so while there is still some kackada around. Things are bad in the rest of the Caribbean. It might only be a matter of time before it reaches us. On the same day that the Financial Times was reporting Bolt’s record-breaking performance, it described the economic condition of the Caribbean in the following way: “Jamaica and Barbados have debt-to-GDP ratios of more than 100 percent…In 2010 Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize and St. Lucia’s debt burdens are about 80 per cent of economic output, and Dominica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are about 70 per cent.” We may think ourselves invincible but as my mama used to say, “when yo’ neighbor house on fire, watch yours.”
We are having a wonderful Olympic Games and our athletes have made us proud, but the question remains: can we use these uplifting moments to change our culture and our conception of human excellence and scientific achievement?