Welcome

Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Coming down to Earth.

I frequently have reverse writer's block, meaning I don't write because I feel I have too many things I want to say, so I have to take a stand back and hope that the ideas can be distilled. I'm spending 10 days in New York enjoying watching tennis and taking a holiday. The world that I physically and emotionally inhabit has a large component that is dedicated to sport, so I was still up on its equivalent of a sugar high at the end of the Olympics for reasons every Jamaican knows and now much of the world is beginning to understand. I love to see people perform their sporting craft with grace and ease, knowing that is part some inate or well-nurtured trait and has involved years of real hard graft. That's why I will always prefer to see a Roger Federer, who moves on the court like a Fred Astaire of Rudolf Nurayev. That's why I love to watch film of Pele, who caressed a ball as if it were a fragile glass orb. I will never denegrate the skills and efforts of the other athletes, but that grace at the highest level is a real gift to behold.

I'm physically removed from the Caribbean right now but trying to stay in touch with what is happening. During hurricane season, that means checking the weather and hoping that a tropical storm or hurricane does not wreak havoc on any of the islands, especially those with relatives. So Tropical Storm Hanna is still beating around The Bahamas (daughter and parents living there). Tropical Storm Gustav dumped rain aplenty on Jamaica (parents and relatives living there) and has moved on toward the Gulf of Mexico (have to travel through that region soon). But, with the USA also often in the hurricane's sights, we have Louisiana dealing with Hurricane Gustav and evacuating citizens from New Orleans to avoid a repeat of the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe. So, where ever you turn there is something stalking you. So, I am not going to worry about stalkers, and just think about what my eyes are showing me.

When you visit a place like New York it's hard to fathom sometimes if you are seeing something graceful or something that is really artisanal. It's a big place and it's hard to not be impressed by the size. The metropolitan area has just over 8 million inhabitants in an area of 305 square miles. That's sizeable and NYC has been the US's largest city for nearly 220 years. The only other place that feels physically similar to me is Hong Kong, and for good reason--it's about 425 square miles with about 7 million people. Having spent a lot of my years living in London (7 1/4 million people in about 610 square miles) I understand why people want to say that NYC and London are similar. Believe me, my friend, they are not at all. New York has none of the poetic grace of London. William Wordsworth's "Upon Westminster Bridge" will always ring true for London, but not for New York:

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

The sheer vertical scale of New York City is what makes it stand apart, along with its huge avenues that have no equivalent in either of the other two cities I mentioned. This city is about urban compression. Because of that desire to build into the sky it's taken people a long time get back to Earth. You're always close to ground in London. However, I notice that New Yorkers seem to be getting terrestial again. You find small neighbourhood parks, planted with all kinds of legal herbs, vegetables, fruit, and flower. You read about people wanting to make use of whatever small outdoor space they can to make a garden: the joy of hand mowing an area that is 6 feet-by-6 feet is something I cannot relate to, but then again I cannot get excited about paying US$2000 to live in a space about the same size. Londoners, with their houses and gardens even in the densest urban districts, would find it hard to hide a wry smile.

I cannot pinpoint when it started, but somewhere during the tenures of Mayors Koch (1978-89), Dinkins (1990-93), Guiliani (1994-2001) and Bloomberg (since 2002), NYC became more civilized, cleaner, easier to manoeuver, more fun to visit, better to live in, more attractive to look at. I remember its grime--not much different from London at one time, and a familiar urban nightmare. I remember its traffic congestion,which now seems to be still a real problem in the rush hours and in certain parts of the city--residents may tell me otherwise. I remember its extensive but relatively cheap underground rail system (similar to London in making the area whole and moving the vast majority of people each day; still great value at US$ 2 a trip, and possible transfers to buses). I remember reading about its crime, though I have never seen any crime incident in the 25 years or so that I have visited. Eating out has always been easy and pleasurable for all the variety, and that seems to have increased, if that is possible.

I've never studied NYC's economic history, but have seen some of its evolution, especially as manufacturing and processing industries changed, leaving behind wonderful buildings that were ripe for dereliction. Seeing the Garment and Meatpacking Districts districts transform into areas for chic clothes shops and gourmet restaurants is satisfying to me, because the essence of the areas remain but the purposes have morphed. So, these areas are working hard to stay relevant and true to themselves. Not like Covent Garden, whose flower market, was replaced by a plethora of other things chic.

New York City does not have what London offers in terms of open spaces. Its rivers are there but do not have the same social power of The Thames, dividing London into two cultural halves which you ignore at your peril, providing the base for economic activity that was once direct (shipping, warehousing, etc.) and now disconnected (riverside housing, eating and dining, and financial services). Crossing them by foot does not evoke much romance, as many of them are huge constructions in steel, iron, or concrete.

There is Central Park but it's like one large grassy oasis that serves the whole city; there are a few smaller parks that are like dots. But there is nothing like the choice of Hyde Park, St. James' Park, Kensington Gardens, Battersea Park, Holland Park, Hampstead Heath, etc.

Like London, New York is really largely about its people, and here it is very much like London. It's been a receiver point for centuries, and many people easily forget from where they came once they are in New York. I overheard some young people talking in the park yesterday and extolling the virtues of living abroad--"It's really good to live, with, y'know, foreigners for a while; getting to know about their cultures and stuff, y'know". Their clipped American accents painted a picture of WASPs talking--because I too have preconceived notions when I think of Americans. Then I looked across, and not one of these kids had a European-looking face, and all looked like they were new generation Indo-Pakistan stock. Good that they identify themselves so clearly as not foreigners.

I left the park and walked back to the apartment where I am staying. It seemed that with the tourists and the variety of locals I passed with their different ethnic backgrounds (Koreans, Senegalese, Hispanics, Chinese, Italians, black Americans) there was enough of the world right there, though true to say that seeing foreigners and living with them are not the same thing.

So, NYC seems to be more like my workhorse athlete, not my poet in motion. My bias may come from not living here and growing up with the sense of differences that I can always feel in London.

I'm off to explore another foreign part of NYC this morning, with a trip to Chinatown. I'm not finished with my thoughts about New York, but I need Sunday morning food to think, and so with the prospect of dim sum clouding my mind, I will leave you with some urban food for thought.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Staying on message.

To say that I like blogging is like saying that a bee likes pollen. It's at times like this, during the stressful time of hurricane season, that I wonder what those who constantly beef about blogs and their content are really thinking or frightened of. I have yet to find a source of news and updates of current events that perform like blogs. Here I am in New York City, wanting to know what is happening in my native land. I read news reports online from my mobile phone and see TV bulletins if I can get near a television, or I can check in with some blogs. The Jamaica Gleaner has again shown that standard newspaper houses can be at the forefront of breaking news by having a blog (see http://go-jamaica.com/blog/). I spoke to my relatives by phone at last today, and sent some e-mails to friends and family elsewhere to say that all seemed alright, but the Gleaner blog has plenty of amateur video and journalists' brief reports to convince me that, while there may be a disaster in the making, much of country is not being ripped to shreds. The coverage is not polished, but it does not need to be. It's vivid and real, and that's often all that life is. We can add colour and flavour and politics and opinions if we want, but in the first place we want information, and it can come in the rawest fashion as far as I am concerned. I don't want to always wait 24 hours at least to know more about something major that is going on now. Those days are over.

I hope that by the time I get back to Barbados some of the local newspapers will have moved their heads from a place closer to their feet to see that above and around them is a manner of getting news and information out to the public speedily and with reasonable clarity. It's something they should have embraced a long time ago and to me there is a telling and somewhat disturbing indictment being built up about what are the interests--or better, lack of interests--of local news organs.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

New New York.

A week in New York City can seem like a month in other places. The scale, speed, noise, glitz, splash, money that is really evident in the place is more than almost anywhere I know. I always have a hard time adjusting to all of that, at first, but thanks to being able to see some of the city from a different viewpoint helps me get back to the Earth I know.

My step daughther graduated from Columbia University in the leafy north west of uptown Manhattan. She first worked on Wall Street and is now "in between assignments" ahead of graduate school, another job, finding a new apartment, figuring out relationships, hanging out with her parental units. So, I am getting to know a little "de Loisaida" area (aka the lower East Side of NYC). "De Village" is not my home, but it's hers as she finds herself in new, interesting places to eat in Greenwich Village's little corners. She has discovered budgeting big time. The walk is a very important part of life for many New Yorkers. It's not so smart to own a car, and a good 20 block walk is good for you and your pocket book.

She is discovering that food stamps are a good option for people with no income and no other gifts coming in. No shame in taking what the state offers. It's not the same as lying on the side walk with a pan and plea. It's honest social support. I know the joys of getting unemployment benefits when I left school and university, and look at me now.

But the time in NYC is not about social issues, but about having fun and watching tennis. That we are doing. I am having my creative juices stimulated by all I see, but cannot put that out in public because I am nowhere near a computer most of the day. My BlackBerry is a possibility, but I am having too much fun watching all the other people use their BBs during tennis matches.

I am struck by the momentous moment that is about to fully unfold today, as Senator Barack Obama stands up as the first black nominee for president for a major political party. I have been looking forward to that moment for many months. Some Americans have been looking forward to it for decades. I'll let that piece of history unfold and think about how, we, as black non-Americans, fit into the new picture. How the poor and the rich in the US and its neighbourhood may be affected by this in coming years.

But, for today, I am going to see if I can find some interesting tennis to watch. I am going to love the Subway. I am going to love Starbucks. I am going to love privilege--if I get a hook up for great courtside tickets, and drinks and snacks with the hoity-toities. I am going to love sunblock. I am going to love marketing and merchandising and selling and American Express and their mini TV that allows me to watch six matches at a time, all for free--really. I am going to love giveaways, and maybe a chance to bump into a top ten player. I am going to love bumping into friends randomly. I am going to love sending messages to my friends all over the world about the tennis, and getting messages from them about what is going on in America--really--while they watch the Democratic Convention, that I cannot see. I am going to love meeting new people, from Connecticut, from France, from everywhere. I am going to enjoy another day of life.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Time for reflection.

I have hit the road again, this time, New York City, for another tennis love fest at the US Open. Time and opportunity will not be on my side for blogging, as I will not be hauling my laptop around with me, even though I have teaching assignments to complete. So, I will do my best to post thoughts periodically, looking at life in and from New York.

My first set of thoughts, reflections on how Jamaica at least can build strongly from the boost given by its success in the Beijing Olympics, have already been touched upon by some Jamaican leaders. It's interesting that one of the first points was to point the finger at criminals for the true crimes they have committed in wasting an abundance of talent, but thankfully not all. This plea cannot be meaningful as mere words, but there will be a long debate about correct actions. Crime prevention is really a state of mind, and means asserting that crime will not go on. That puts a real and heavy burden on those who permit crimes, both politicians and citizens alike. The criminal is the actor, but others are the facilitators. The breeding grounds and accommodating conditions need to be removed.

My other set of thoughts will be about whether we had the kind of leaders we need now and if our citizens are ready to stand up for their rights.

As noted above, I will have to hold and develop later those thoughts.

Already, however, I can see and be pleased to see that Jamaica is a good "brand" again, as people want to be associated with it--such as the two English-sounding white tourists I met in the hotel elevator: "Can you tell us who won the 200 metres?" I was asked as I complimented one of them on his choice of Jamaica tee-shirt. "Yes. Bolt, and he got a new world record" I added. "Great" one of them said. Great, I felt. Beforehand, I had met some French tourists in a Starbucks, and was speaking to them in French, and they too were glad to be able to put on gallic versions of Bolten stances, and say "Oooosayn, he great". My eldest daughter told me that the jerk chicken that she prepared for her college friends--planned before the Games--was an fantastic success. Why am I not surprised?

My last word today goes back to the furore produced by IOC President, Rogge. I loved the irony of his countrywoman, Tia Hellebaut (see image above), winning the women's high jump. (I won't go into whether or not she is from the same linguistic group as Rogge, or if they are opposing each other in that small country of Belgium.) She showed in her performances before, as and after, she won, how a champion should act. She pumped her fist and pointed her fingers to the sky after she cleared a good height. Not a Bolten stance, but equally clear that she had dominated her rivals. In the limited area of the high jump pit, she showed all the animal aggression behaviour that is normal for someone who is on top (see link to The Economist article this week, "Victory is mine", for a report on this characteristic), to quote:

"...the signs of victory are obvious for all to see: the chest inflates, the head is thrown back and the victor displays a strutting and confident air. Shame at being defeated is equally recognisable: the head bows, and sometimes the shoulders slump and the chest narrows too—something that is not a million miles away from the cringing postures associated with submission in animals..."

I will for a long time think about how someone who has been an athlete could so wildly misunderstand how a champion can and often does react to a phenomenal performance--those rare flights into fantasy that turn out to be reality--such as a great Olympic win AND a world record--and that each will have his or her own style. Now, I will leave the man alone to "Tek weh hi' self" as PM Bruce Golding proposed, and for him and others like him to stop the "red eye" and "grudgeful". (I could not help but smile to hear Bruce revert to Patois as his chosen mode of communicating his ideas and sentiments. "Wha'ppen to standard English, Bruce?")

So, I will continue to ride on with those feel-good-to-be-Jamaican feelings, ready for any and every challenge, and watch to see if Jamaicans start to take on more the posture of victors than of the defeated.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Credit where it's due.

The Americans have had less than a spectacular time on the track and in the field at Beijing, and they have already begun the expected soul searching (see report). But they got some warranted "time in the sun" tonight in the moonlight of China. They took both long relays. In both races, all but the last teams ran an Olympic record, season's best or national record; that's what you aim for at the Games. Jamaica's team took bronze in the women's race, and the main trailed in a tired, and disappointed-looking last in the men's race. No debate about "Should Usain have run..." I imagine that at least his legs are tired and the team was good enough for a possible medal, and deserved to be left to decide their own destiny; that's sometimes how it goes in team events.

But, I cannot resist telling you that I rooted for the Americans really hard in the women's race, as Sanya Richards looked at the back of the Russian runner midway down the home straight, with the Jamaican team safely in third spot. Then she fixed on a simple strategy: I can see you, and know how your legs are, and I want the gold that I missed in the individual race. She clawed and dug and made it to the line and I celebrated as hard as if it were the Jamaican team. I've run those sort of races and those come-from-behind wins in the really are so sweet.

But why was I rooting for an American?

Because...as...life...would...have it...Sanya is a Jamaican. Born in Kingston in the mid-1980s and going to the US at age 12; she only took US citizenship in 2002--the year that she competed for them in the World Junior Championships in Kingston. That's where Usain broke out onto the world. So, more sweet bitterness. Sanya's family in Jamaica and the US must be really happy and I hope that someone on CVM or TVJ is creative enough to get some sense of that interesting twist.

A Case of Exploding Mangoes.

When I headed to Jamaica two weeks ago, the book I took to read was Mohamed Hanif's "novel", a A Case of Exploding Mangoes. It's story has nothing to do with Jamaica, but is about Pakistan. But I find the title coming back repeatedly as I watch the Olympic Games. I think the world would be excused to feel that it has been watching a case of exploding mangoes.

Going into the final events of track and field this weekend, we have a situation that only a true liar and hopeless optimist would have predicted. Jamaica is tied for the lead in terms of gold medals (6)--with the mighty Russia and USA trailing (see IAAF table). Our 3 million people can produce excellence to match or beat these two "super powers" with their hundreds of millions. Sure Russia has more total medals (15 to our 10--but even that is an amazingly small difference); the USA leads all with a total 21 medals in the Bird Nest Stadium. But little we are there in the soup.

To underline what Jamaica has done, look at the placings table, which ranks countries by places in the top 8 of events (8 is usually the number of finalists for the shorter track events--see table), where Jamaica is third, behind the "super powers" and well ahead of Kenya (4th) and China (11th). Millions and billions of people to choose from and yet their excellence in this area trails ours.

Don't tell me that do not think this is UNBELIEVABLE.

What the placing ranking tells me is that we have some of the best but also a good standing among the rest--we have some depth, and potential to tap. That's where our size can work against us, because unlike the populous countries we will find it hard to have lots of top ranked people--just a rule of numbers--but in this area we are getting there.

So, in this arena we have been able to build on our areas of known talent and success. That's really a large part of what the Games are about. We can hope to improve in the next four years.

When the weekend is over, we may have the pulp of exploded mangoes all over us if Jamaica can get the best gold medal tally of all the nations.

This is a testimony to many things and we will have to get used to much more scrutiny and investigation of what we do and how we act. The good will be mimicked quickly. The bad will be pushed hard down our throats--and rightly so. But, where we are right and where we are proud, we need to "Get up. Stand Up" or as Bruce Golding said to IOC president Rogge "Tek weh yu self!" You can't be rude to us because we are small and of no count in your mind. We may seem marginal to many but we are really central. Jamaicans are known to be assertive--a good and bad trait--and we are not alone in the region to have and use that characterstic to help push for what we feel we deserve. We need to get used to these ideas and start to focus on what we can do with them.

But the success shows other things, and I think other Caribbean, small and poor countries, and any country that wants to give itself a direction, should take note of some of these. You can do a lot with meagre resources and/or limited numbers if you have some clear objectives and work to put the priorities out there clearly and build towards fulfilling them. We know that this has been done by the likes of Cuba across the area of sports, and we have seen how it has also been done by the African kings and queens of track in east Africa (notably, but not only, Ethiopia and Kenya). We have seen how this has happened too with African football, where the world's undisputed poorest continent and nations are turning into the source of some of the best talent in that sport. You should not be surprised that Nigeria is in the Olympic football finals--again--against long-time powerhouse, Argentina--again: remember that Nigeria beat Argentina in Atlanta in 1996 to take the Olympic title, with the likes of now-household names such as Kanu.

In my life as an economist I had a hand in helping see it happen to the Baltic countries after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the mid-1990s: in the space of a decade these countries all moved to be able to join the European Union. They are now economic miracles and have the problems of economic success to deal with. From having currencies that were only good for confetti, their currencies became almost too strong too quickly. They have rebuilt their socieities and economies, and are at the forefront of technologies, in a geographic and economic space that is very competitive. Poor them!

It makes me weep to see how we struggle with CARICOM, CSME, and now EPA. Good or bad, we just cannot seem to figure out where the heck we are going. It's a waste of energy, time, resources and credibility. I was once a bureaucrat and can point to attitudes and political positioning that I see at the core of some of the problems, but I see also a huge vacuum of Caribbean leadership and ideals.

But looking at the exploding mangoes in Beijing.

First, Jamaica puts sport on a pedestal and sees its merits alongside academics, in the process having a series of high schools that are well-known for their excellence in sports and no laggards in education. It is not sport over all things, but an athlete is an important person and not denigrated for that prowess. We love educated people too--and how--and are as proud of our list of Rhodes Scholars.

Jamaica has for decades had an excellent athletics program that starts from primary school level and now reaches beyond university level (see Gleaner report for some details). Sure, it used and uses US universities, but recognized problems with that (such as the timing, length and intensity of the US track season, that left athletes drained and peaking too early for the international circuit). It put more focus in recent years into providing good training and programs at home, and the results are showing. The Bahamas, for example, has done something similar with swimming and dividends are showing. Jamaica has been now able to use its success to help others in the region, as Caribbean athletes from say Trinidad and Antigua and St. Kitts go there to benefit. That is a kind of regional cooperation that is worth talking about.

Jamaica has also has a good structure for football at the local level--using US universities and now European and US football leagues to give another level that cannot be produced at home. It was good enough to produce a World Cup qualifying squad and from that building has continued. Trinidad, too, has been able to do that.

Swimming needs more work but is going in a good direction.

Of course, the Caribbean darling has been cricket and Jamaica loves that very much. But, it's not seen as the only sport into which to put effort and resources. Moreover, it has been clear for decades that cricket does not get much support and resources at a higher international level in terms of education. It is not really strange that cricket is not in the Olympics. You do not get educational scholarships in that sport that are worth talking about; yes, you may get to go to a cricket academy, but that's not the same as a place at universities. For track, swimming, volleyball, football, and many more sports, you can get education 'meal vouchers' to the US, Canada, and elsewhere. Once that door opens it can let through many because the quality is well known and so the quantities can continue to flow--look at some of the well-known partners like the US universities of Tennessee, Auburn, and Louisiana State, to name a few. It's not the full solution because you want your improved human capital to come back and build on what he or she has learnt and pass on good lessons. So, this is a mixed blessing if you do not have something to come back for. But, no need to dismiss it by focusing on sports that don't open such doors.

There are other aspects of this process of prioritization and making good use of contacts that I will try to reflect on in coming days and weeks, and I think it's part of a "conversation" that we in the Caribbean need to join and take part in seriously. It's about an important aspect of our future. We have spent decades trying to find our place and know who we are, before and since Emancipation, and especially since our Independence. For the first time in a long while, it appears that we can stand up for ourselves in an arena well-known to the vast majority--we did it with cricket before, but let's not fool ourselves about how much of the world sees that sport. I am not denigrating cricket in any way, here, because it too has played a key role in forming our identity.

Later today I will head to the US to watch the US Open tennis for a few days, and will wonder if we can get our act together in that sport, where we have budding talent, but seem to flounder at getting them beyond a key level internationally.

Ahead of that, let me sit back again and watch mangoes explode all over the place for a few more days.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Feeding the hungry: Attempt at simple synidcation.

You will have noted an upsurge in posts over the past week or so, triggered by an unprecedented series of Caribbean success in the Beijing Olympics. My blog is distributed to e-mail subscribers by an automatic program that picks up new posts at around 4am EST. For most people that may be fine. However, there are faster alternatives, in the form of an RSS (real simple synidication) feed.

The blog now has this option for subscription by more regular update, and it's located to the right of the latest item posted.

Alternatively, you should see an RSS icon in the address bar area of your browser when you open the Living in Barbados blog address [http://livinginbarbados.blogspot.com/], probably to the right--it looks like the image to the right.

Or you can customize something like your My Yahoo! page to add an RSS feed, in which case you need to paste in the address [http://feeds.feedburner.com/LivingInBarbados].

Either option described should allow you to synidicate to the blog and have new material sent to My Yahoo! or Google Reader, for example. Good luck.

If you are not sure about what the above means, watch the cool little video.



I'll be happy to try to deal with simple feedback.

Jamaicans shock the world again, but prove they are human.

For double Olympic champion, VCB, aka Veronica Campbell-Brown, it was not to be another gold medal. The ladies had a mix up in the 4x100 metres relay, and could not make the exchange in the restricted area: it's not easy in the pressure of a race, no matter how many times you practice. No shame. Some regrets. They were holding alive an almost impossible dream: Jamaica victorious in the short sprints and all the relays. So, rue the mistake but look at the big picture: a wonderous Olympic Games, with indvidual and collective performances unlikely to be repeated for years.

So, we will have to make do with the gold in the men's 4x100 metres relay, and another world record for Jamaica and Usain Bolt. This was THE gold though for 'the real big man', Asafa Powell. This was gained by team effort and it showed. Look at the picture and add your own words. They run for different clubs but have one cause--victory. There are already a multitude of images of the runners from this week and this too will be seen many times. I know that in Asafa's heart and mind there is both satisfaction and relief.

But, what we love--I will speak for myself--is to see Lightning celebrate, like a true Caribbean man. Staying faithful to himself and his culture. And in case you ahve any doubts about that latter aspect, PM Bruce Golding told the critics of Bolt's celebrations that they were "full of grudgefulness" and "full of red eye" and should "Tek weh you self!" (see Gleaner report).

The world knows Jamaica for many bad things, and some good--like the music and the 'no problem' attitude, and the laughter and the excitability. "Bolten" is a word that has come into the vocabulary, as in "Bolten stance"--see the Lightning. The world now knows dances that are popular in Jamaica--the 'gully creeper' and 'nah linger'--thanks to Usain. People have enjoyed themselves. Horror! Some IOC bureaucrats don't like Usain's 'attitude'. Get over it!

We have long talked the talk. Now we can really walk the walk...and dance the dance.

Pandemonium.

When you read this history will already be written. The bitter first. The Jamaican women did not finish the 4x100 metres relay, with a messed up baton change between 2nd and 3rd legs, when they were leading. The relays are beasts and each time you get round without problems you breathe a huge sigh of relief. So, no gold there but the 4x400 dream is still alive for the women.

Now, the sweet. I said yesterday that if the men could pass the baton the record would be history. There was a tough exchange between Michael Frater (2nd) to Usain (3rd), not made easier by the big height difference between the two, but it went alright. Then Lightning struck again, and passed the baton sweetly to Asafa. Then I saw what I had wanted to see all through the Games: Asafa leading and way ahead to the tape. And the world record? Obliterated in 37.10 seconds (about 9.275 seconds a man, or 4 world record 100 metres).

A thought for Trinidad, who took silver with 38.06 seconds. We are one and strong, even when we are separate.

I have been on the phone since and some of my calls cannot go through because circuits are busy. A friend called me from Kingston and let me listen to the pandemonium in the streets as everyone celebrates. My house is now almost demolished as I celebrated alone with my cat.

I feel that I will be writing a lot in coming days about what these feats could mean for Jamaica and the Caribbean. But here is a taster. I see Caribbean strength in the individuals and the countries and am very wary of how that gets lost when we try to fit everyone into the same box. I have touched on the fact that the national teams of Jamaica and Trinidad have been very strong in football and can hold their own. I have raised doubts about the persistence of a West Indies team, which means that some of the best may play, but I think is losing because the nations of say Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad could field wonderful teams, and each represent the best of West Indies cricket. But let me leave those discussions for later.

My other futuristic thought goes to the children--our future, of course. It's no cliche. When I see my children what do I see? Do I see them or do I see me? It may not matter but it's an interesting question. What I know is that without opportunities, they will become nothing of worth (however, I define that). So, I encourage and help and build and guide. Is my youngest daughter--a mere 4 year old--a champion in the making? Perhaps. Will she have my genes and have blazing sprint speed. Perhaps. Will she be intelligent and wise, like her parents and grandparents? Perhaps. Will she always do us proud? Probably. Will she get into trouble? Probably. Will I beat her? Never. Will I humilate her? I hope not. Will I ever be embarrased by her sense of humour--which is dry like mine? Unlikely. Her sisters are grown and have much university education. She has role models of all the best kinds in them and those around her. But she needs them to stay with her and not let her slip.

All of that to say that what we dont protect we lose. We have heard the pleas from Kingston's garrisons, where people have so little to offer their children, not even a little hope. Now we have seen that from the seeming hopelessness can come greatness and people and achievements of which we are all proud.

The politicans can decide what to do in the immediate time, such as to give a holiday or make formal celebration. But the time is also the people's to decide where they want to go from here.

Pride has its place and right now it's in number one position because Jamaica, representing the Caribbean, has put us all on the map in the best of manners. Jamaicans were supposed to wear the colours today and I will go to find them to put on myself.

I'll forumlate my thoughts better once I can catch my breath and stop the screaming.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Usain, why can't you be nice to the others?

The President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge (splendid in what looks like a magnifying monocle), is having some problems seeing eye to eye with what he perceives as Usain Bolt's lack of sportsmanship (see Times report). Most notable amongst his quoted remarks are:

"That's not the way we perceive being a champion. I have no problem with him doing a show but I think he should show more respect for his competitors and shake hands, give a tap on the shoulder to the other ones immediately after the finish and not make gestures like the one he made in the 100 meters." [my emphasis].

I feel that a lot of people misinterpreted Bolt's gestures, for innocent or malicious reasons. There may be more than one level of culture clash at work--race and class, being obvious, but also the aspirations and motivation of the modern athlete. All of that works out in different ways on different stages and may be a good topic for another discussion. We can think, for example, about how we like or not the display of the sponsor's goods at the key moment: Usain showed off the Puma shoes when he won the 100 metres and sales reportedly soared by 2 million over the weekend. Good boy, say Puma. Naughty boy others may say. But does any of that detract from Bolt as a supreme athlete and competitor, who has one of the simplest demeanors in his fun-loving style?

In a sense I could have no problem with the spirit of M. Rogge's request, except that if that's how he wants Olympic athletes to behave then make it a rule and abide by it (as is in the case in some sports in martial arts or fencing or boxing--though see below). It's a long time now since I have been involved in sports at various levels. All I know is that despite what we may say to encourage and not make ourselves feel bad, we really love winning and it's a wonderful feeling. Depending on your religious persuasion one could equally be upset by athletes crossing themselves or praying before and after a race.I cannot remember how many winners at Olympics in recent years have hoisted the index figure to show that they are number one.

One Tajikistan boxer pre-empted the pat on the shoulder aspect by biting his Kazakhstan opponent on the shoulder (see report), then he was disqualified. I don't know who was leading the bout at the time.

The IOC has shown its displeasure at poor sportsmanship and "political gestures" when it disqualified and stripped the Armenian-born Swedish wrestler of the bronze medal he put on the mat before walking away from the awards ceremony. Will they do the same to Usain to underline M. Rogge's point. I don't think so. Most have seen in Bolt a fresh beginning in a sports that had lost much lustre and credibility. But let's take a look at how badly the IOC feel about the "issue" of sportsmanship.

What should we do about the "spontaneous" showing of the national flag by the winner(s)? The Olympic Games are a movement not a political platform.

What should we do about Bahrain's Rashid Ramzi's grand gestures EVERY TIME he wins a major race, well before the finish? And those high jumpers doing unnecessary somersaults on the mat after they have cleared a major height or won, or broken a record? How does the next jumper feel with that "Beat that!" display. Or is the jumper so pleased with the performance that the rest of the field is (rightly) forgotten? What do you do about those who want to work the crowd into a frenzy before their turn? Does that destroy the well-built peace and karma of other athletes?

The other side to M. Rogge's proposition is that the losers do not necessarily want a gesture from the winner at the end of the event; it can easily be misinterpreted too. I have seen (as a player, coach and referee) the winner's offered hand spat upon or otherwise rejected by a loser and then all hell broke lose. There is a good set who are the "leave me alone" brigade--like the losers in tennis who cannot wait to get off the court before the crowd give their applause to the victor. You could imagine the reaction of some to Usain after he smashed his own world record, after really running 60 metres and with his shoes untied. Who would be saying "Better luck next time, mate"?

I know that next will be something like the crowd should not cheer for the winner. How do you stop 91,000 people when the public announcement system blares out "Happy Birthday" after a man has just broken the world record ahead of his anniversary.

From what I read about M. Rogge (who is Belgian, and a three-time Olympic yachtsman--and some do not call yachting a sport), he is in need of some personal image rebuilding about coming to a deal to let the Chinese censor the Internet for journalists. For that, he deserves a pat on the shoulder and a hand shake. N'est pas?

Yes, the IOC needs to be applauded for (eventually) launching an investigation into the age of He Kexin, the host nation’s darling female gymnast who won gold in both team and individual events, and is supposedly under age for the sport at 14 [where the limit is 16] (see Times report).

The IOC needs to look at the funky judging. Several years ago we had the fiasco of the collusion of judges. This year we see fiascoes such as gymnasts who fall over getting better scores than those who manage to land perfectly. I guess there is a lot of scope for "artisitic interpretation".

I could go on. So, jacques it in.

Usain, mi love you.

Usain Bolt's performances in Beijing during the past seven days have electrified athletics, and peoples' reactions to sport. Most seem to love what he represents. A young Jamaica poet has written how she has been smitten my Usain, and her marriage is quickly heading for the rocks. Her husband may need to bolt her down before she bolts. A friend shared with me the poem below. If you are an English speaker but cannot understand the Patois, just read slowly and all should come clear. If you are not an Anglophone, you have the gist of the poem above: go to Jamaica, eat plenty of yam and dumplings, and your tongue and ears will soon adjust. Trust me.


Usain Bolt And Mi

By – Joan Andrea Hutchinson

Usain mi dawlin, mi just want yuh fi know dat sake a yuh, mi marriage almost mash up di odder day, because a piece of jealousy teck my husband.

Well wah never happen in a year happen in a day

Mi kyaan believe mi eyes

Ever since Usain Bolt win di Olympics 100 metres

Fi mi husband start exercise

Yuh tink a lickle talk mi a talk to him

Bout how him belly a get big

Mi tired fi tell him how him a get waggaty

An start to fayva pig

Mi spend mi money sign him up a gym

Steam vegetable gi him every day

Him suck him teet an say “Man must have guts”

And galang him merry way

But when Usain Bolt win di Olympic 100 metre gold

An mi start fi scream

Usain Bolt mi love yuh, mi love yuh, mi love yuh

Yuh fulfill mi wildest dream”

Mi run up an dung inna di living room like mi mad

All liddung pon di floor

Mi say “Usain, a long time no man no excite mi so

Mi ago love yuh more and more”

Right now mi have picture of Usain Bolt pon every wall

And one beside mi bed

One pon mi t-shirt, two inna mi purse

And a Usain Bolt inna mi head

Usain Bolt full mi up wid so much pride

Mi doan even waan fi eat

And when mi talk bout how him body look good

Mi husband say mi sound like mi a cheat

Him mout long up and say mi have young bway nature

An a long time mi love mawga man

When mi tell him say Usain Bolt just meck mi feel good

Him say mi a behave like more dan fan

Him bex like bullfrog di odda morning

How mi gi him di breakfast cold

Sake a mi a watch di rerun a Usain a gi dem donkey length

Fi win di 100 metre gold

Dem show di race again when mi a cook di Satiday soup

Mi gi out “What a mawga man can run”

Mi dis hear “it come een like say sake a dis mawga man

Mi an mi Satiday soup a get bun”

Well Usain mi dawlin, dem say who bex lose

So mi say later fi him

But one ting mi know all of a sudden him start eat healty

And find himself a gym

And between mi an yuh Usain, him proud a yuh big time

But mi dear, nuh watch no face

Yuh name write pon mi heart dat Satiday when yuh get di gold

Inna di Olympics 100 metre race

joanandreahutchinson@chat-bout.net

Jamaica hit by anti-doping bans--Breaking news....LOL

I have just received a copy of an official statement, which I reprint below. My reading of it is clear. Our athletes should not falter and I wait to hear the official response from the Jamaican Athletics Association (aka JAA, pronounced "jah").

OFFICIAL STATEMENT:

In a joint statement issued by World Anti-Doping Agency president and Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the following foods have been placed on the list of banned substances issued by WADA: yam, green bananas, cocoa, dasheen, breadfruit, ackee and saltfish, mackerel run down, turned cornmeal, Malta, Supligen and coconut oil. Jamaicans seem to become extremely athletic on diets with these foods. Coming out of WADA labs, one of the major banned substances from Jamaica is the Cassava root, a high fibre, high starch tuber root eaten in Jamaica. It has properties which are said to enhance endurance and cause muscle fibres to twitch faster. This comes after extensive study of the diets of the Jamaican athletes which took part in the Beijing 2008 Olympic games. Though natural foods it is felt by WADA that these foods because of their unique properties give Jamaican athletes an unfair advantage. High concentrations of carbohydrates and other naturally occurring substances are said to be mimicking the effects of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs). Some foods have been noted to in particular cause an unusual increase in the male hormone testosterone. As such WADA has seen it fit to add these foods to the list of banned substances. Given the sensitivity of this issue, Jamaican athletes participating in the current Olympic games underway in Beijing have not been banned but must submit to these new restrictions within the next two years.

Got to have a laugh and beat your chest :-). Is fool we a fool you!

One Caribbean? Missed Relay Opportunites.

I am not going to develop a big argument on these topics. But I will just point out that Jamaica is in the unbelievable position of leading the athletics gold medal tally for all countries--with five so far; by extension it leads the western hemisphere area, which includes the mighty USA (see table).

I want to extend my satisfaction to Cuba, whom we know has a very different political regime to most of the world and the region, and speaks Spanish so is often harder for us to to build good communications. But let us not forget or ignore that that country has done so much to put sports and athletics at the forefront of their development, and helps many other English-speaking countries in the region with their resources and expertise. Dayron Robles' (pictured) win in the 110 metres hurdles was expected and elegantly delivered as usual.

I also want to note that amazing performances have come from all the region's athletes, not just the English-speakers, though not with the satisfaction of medals. Bahamians have run and jumped their hearts for only a bronze by Leevan Sands in today's men's triple jump, so far, yet they held the region's hopes so high in the last World Championships and Olympics. I also shed a huge tear last night and again today for the Netherlands Antillean, Churandy Martina, over his disqualification and lost silver medal in yesterday's 200 metres, behind Usain.

There's a natural feel-good element from doing well in the Olympics and so many positives can be built on by the region after the Games are over.

I do not hold a smug satisfaction from seeing both US men's and women's relay teams dropping the baton on the last exchange and giving up any hopes of a medal. I hoped and prayed that this would not happen to any of the region's teams. The relays are beastly for tripping up pre-race favourites, who cannot pass the stick. Only 10 of 16 teams ran a legal race for the men--so no Nigeria or Great Britain--and 11 0f 16 for the women-including Trinidad & Tobago (see result). Really cruel for those team members who had no individual events and had this as their only hope of glory. I do not know why there were no Bahamian 100 metres relay teams entered. But let a proud battle begin between the Caribbean teams for golds tomorrow.

Jamaica to the world.

I cannot keep up with this. Arriving in Barbados at just after midnight, I had just a few hours sleep before I had to be ready for another final. I am a long-time athlete and I know that good rest before major races is important. So, in a half-dazed state, I got down into the blocks of my armchair, got set with the remote, and fired the remote. I hit the curve at the same beat as Veronica Campbell-Brown, as her heart beat to the melody of "We are the champions...of the world" and she took the gold in the women's 200 metres--sorry, retained HER gold medal, and with a new personal best of 21.74 seconds. What a haul in the 100-200 sprints, getting 5 out of six medals. All that is ever expected in a major event is that you run your best. Bway, Jamaicans have really done that.

Kerron Stewart, coming in third, just outside her PB, but with legs tired from 8 rounds of racing, must be disappointed but still elated.

As today wears on, the sprinters have to get ready to make real history and win all four gold medals. What a thing that would be. Jamaica forever remembered in history.

Everyone is putting on "Bolten" poses. Athletes are smiling and joking in front of the camera. Having real fun is usually part of the closing ceremonies, when all the stress is over. But Jamaica, and especially Usain and Shelly-Ann have said in their way "Get up. Stand up." China has taken Jamaica to its heart and what a birthday song they gave Usain.

Goose bumps are all over me and I know over some of my friends. Every playing of the national anthem is an exercise is futile self-control. Cry I must and cry I will.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What a day.

Blogging events in real time has been my new venture of the past few weeks, and during my latest sojourn to Jamaica it has been wonderful sport.

I have just travelled to the capital, Kingston, after watching the second Lightning strike, for 200 metres gold and new world record--taking the formidable Michael Johnson's record set in Atlanta in 1996. Some of my friends will remember that I said last night that it would fall today.Bolt now becomes the first man to break both world records in the process of becoming Olympic champion. By the way, the last man to hold both records at the same time was also a Jamaican, Don Quarrie, in 1975.

The world was having a discussion about whether Usain should have run through the 100 metres. The youth said last night that he had no time to think about time in the 100, but would think about it in the 200--and you see what you get. The man-child runs the full race and has the lunge at the tape with his nearest rival so far out of the picture that it was like a man racing boys, except it was the man-child winning. So, detractors, move on, please. This is a rare and extraordinary talent that has been that way for the best part of the past 6 years, breaking records and winning titles in his favour 200 metres. He runs and has fun. Strange? It may not last, but love it while you can.

Spare a thought for the drama of the "also rans". Wallace Spearmon, a good buddy of Bolt's (who was given some post race dancing lessons by the youth), came in third with19.85 but was disqualified for running out of his lane. Churnady Martina came second in what he thought was a new national record of 19.82, and a first Olympic medal for Netherlands Antilles, but was also disqualified after the US protested. So, US runners Shawn Crawford (defending champion, and running 19.96) and Walter Dix (19.98). Why don't I like that US protest, where they lose one medal but gain two? Bway, some people gravalicious.

In Jamaica, we love to make noise in celebration, so pot covers were being banged in sleepy Mandeville, in the countryside. I went to the bank ATM and yelled "Time to gi' we free money!" Everyone was looking for someone to hug. Cars were flashing headlights. Security guards were waving rifles--not quite like a gun with a rose in it, but a sign. Some Jamaican media commentators in Toronto for tonight's World Cup match between Jamaica and Canada, told of how they were nearly ejected from their hotel as they banged on the walls. New songs are already being aired, that hail the exploits of the new Olympic champions. Office workers in Kingston jumped in the street and some of them are now too hoarse to talk. Not enough pre-Olympic training, and next time the nation has to prepare itself well for all the celebrating.

I had to hurry out after the Bolt struck, as I had a flight to catch. But a call soon came in to tell me that "We get anotha' gold an' anotha record!" This time, Melaine Walker, taking the women's 400 metres and setting a new Olympic record, and for her a new personal best. Another product of a Kingston "garrison" community. I wait to see if our three girls in the 200 metres can sweep again.

I called my little daughter, who is spending summer with grandma in Nassau and asked her if she had seen the runners. "Yes," she told me, "And I yelled, 'Me is a Jamaican!'" Go girl! Make me proud. Her grandma was sad that this time the Bahamians seem to be getting little or nothing.

Everything changes once you are a champion. Now Bolt is a prized asset and his sponsors are getting more than could have been expected. Puma, the footwear company that sponsored Usain, got minutes of free ads after the shoe Bolt used was flashed lovingly in front of camera after the 100 metres, and sales went up by about 2 million over the weekend. What price now to get a double Olympic gold medallist and world record holder to run at a meet? Not wanting to seem mercenary may be hard. Already, the public is talking about how “we all go get a piece o’ de foreign exchange de yout go bring…” Nike sponsored Asafa and are still waiting. Adidas sponsored Tyson Gay--better luck next time. Americans are rightly worried about jobs going abroad and we see another area where globalization is helping developing countries.

Further down the sports food chain many budding athletes are no where near getting more than personal pride. My cousin, a doctor, and alumni of Manchester High School, has been helping them with equipment: nicely tapping friends and associates to “offer” some help—boots, uniforms, services. This kind of support is needed for a long while because there are few structures that support even the very good to get to be better.

Will the feel good factors last? Already, we can see how we get shown up. Politicians are expected to find money to repair roads in the districts from which the Olympic stars come, not least to have a decent road for their arrival. But some areas are pointing out that they don’t even have piped water, so soon after or before the roads that needs to be addressed. The poverty of government is also going to get its time in the spotlight. When Shelly-Ann Fraser’s mother said “Nuff good can come outta ghetto” you have to remember that nuff bad been done by no-care government and criminals. Sporting success alone cannot make up for those drawbacks.

In the end, I spent most of my day in Norman Manley airport waiting for my flight back to Bim. It was due to leave at 2pm, then was delayed till 4.45, then delayed again till 7.15, then delayed again till 8.45. I’m a season traveler so I know my rights, and at around 4.30, I said to Air Jamaica “Is whe’ me food dey?” With the J$600 (US$ 8.50—nuff money dat inna Jamaica) voucher s in hand I could lovingly embrace my sweetheart—a chicken fricassee and pumpkin rice dinner, with cola champagne. I even get to watch the World Cup qualifying football from Canada. That’s how visitors to the nation of champions can celebrate. We can be sufferers, too.

Naturally, the soft frenzy that had been evident earlier was not so apparent at the airport, especially as time wore on and I felt like Tom Hanks in “Terminal”. All eyes and hearts are waiting to see if Jamaica can sweep the women’s 200 metres, and how the relay teams will fare. Oral Tracey, a TV sports broadcaster, surely has his broom ready to show how we did the sweep.

If I never get to Barbados tonight it wont be a day that I will regret for that. It's perfect day to have been stranded in Jamaica, land that I love.



Yea man!

Bolt smashes the 200 metres record, and runs 19.30 seconds, and I told people last night that it was going to go. Him run and no chest thumping, but a real thumping of the track world. I screamed and jumped like a maniac.

I have to run to the airport now, 2 hours away, and I hear that street parties are planned in Kingston. I may not leave the islands but for that I would have not one regret for every minute that I have spent here for the last 2 weeks.

As we are all saying, gun man mus' pu' down you gun now.

Did you see how Bolt showed Spearman how to do the nuh linger and gully creeper dance. Sweet. One world. One love.

Yea man!

Treating the people better.

Nice to hear that Scotiabank Jamaica are flying Asafa's father and brother to Beijing to be there to give him support, as reports are that his spirits are low.

Nice too to hear that Digicel Jamaica are flying Usain's father to Beijing to be there for the youth's birthday on August 21.

Nice to see Jamaica National Building Society giving congratulations to Shericka Williams for getting silver in the women's 400 metres.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Treating the people well.

Jamaicans were excited with talk of getting a public holiday, or several holidays, after the sprinting medal haul over the weekend. PM Bruce Golding ran around the subject, more like a gymnast doing a floor routine than one of our graceful runners. But, the people expect something. Now there is talk of a Jamaica Day, where every Jamaican would show the colours of the national flag (see Gleaner letter). Naturally, the upsurge of national pride has been enormous; even the national footballers, the Reggae Boyz, who had made their own history in qualifying previously for the 1998 World Cup in France, are using the weekend's wins for inspiration in their match tomorrow against Canada in Toronto.

Digicel, for whom Usain Bolt has been a major marketing tool, decided to step up to the starting line and gave every mobile phone customer a J$100 credit (either when credit is topped up for pre-paid, or a credit on the next bill for post-paid)--part of a J$200 million give-away. So, the peeps get a piece. But what about Cable and Wireless, for whom Asafa Powell was the marketing icon? Not going to give a similar credit because their man did not get a medal? No, man. Everybody was on the phone over the weekend like it was an Olympic event, so all the companies made great money. I hope C&W see that all the people get a lift from the victories.

Asafa's defeat has been the subject of much discussion, but nicely there is a big effort to support him: "Big up de big man!" He made modern sprinting come alive in Jamaica, and his unparalleled record of over 40 times under 10 seconds is really phenomenal. My little take is that he needs to rework his racing strategy: he is a great starter, not a come from behind racer or great finisher like Usain, so has no mechanism for dealing with people passing him or to clawing back. He lost the bronze medal place in about the last 10 metres of the race. Look how Kerron Stewart clawed back the field after the absymal start she had. And as I write I see how Shericka Williams dug into the last 20 metres to steal silver in the women's 400 metres final, unexpectedly, and getting a personal best of 49.96 seconds. (The American favourite, Sanya Richards, who gave away her lead and ended up third, is Jamaican by birth. Britain's Germaine Mason, who took silver in today's high jump is really Jamaica's national record holder in the high jump but "defected" recently but still trains with the Jamaican MVP camp. He did a personal best, which would have been another Jamaican national record, but he's now British. Give and take.). Go Jamaicans again, wherever you are!

Finally, much comment is going on about Usain's chest thumping and his not looking to smash the record. I wont spend much time on either. He went to win gold, not set a record--he had it already--in what was for his a sort of fun event. When he saw gold was assured he had an upsurge of elation and just let it out. He also did another personal best--all you can expect in a major event--which was a smash-mouth for the existing world record. All of that in a time when most people don't breathe. What I would give for a chance to run a race like his and pump like that ahead of the tape. He looks great for the 200 metres and I would think that if he starts to do a dance hall move before the finish that that would be arrogant, but I would love to see it.

Now the count is on to see if we can beat our previous best of 3-8-1 for gold, silver and bronze medals. I would love to see Jamaica do better than 1-2-2 in another race.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Olympic goods and bads

US protest women's 100 metres final: claim one of their athletes false started and want a rerun (the poor girl came last...with a false start...please); want to get the bronze medal because they feel that their runner who was fourth was really third because the Jamaicans tied for second. OK. Let...me...write...it...slowly. Real eejyat! Maybe the Caribbean countries should claim the medals for all those athletes born in the region who now wear the US suits...equally silly?

Cameroon's Francoise Mbango wins women's triple jump gold after jumping 15.39m - a new Olympic record. Good to see African women move out of just track stardom.

Kenenisa Bekele claims gold in men's 10,000 metres, with new Olympic record is 27:01.17, and doing a Bolt over the last 20 metres. Ethiopians locking up the events again. Selassie-I.

By winning the men's hammer title, Primoz Kozmus wrote sports history for Slovenian athletics, getting their first ever Olympic gold.

Walter Dix fashion statement-not, with those fingerless evening gloves. He did not wear them in the finals, though. Is that why he came third? With them on he might have come last?

Williams sisters go 10-0 in Olympic tennis doubles.

Jamaicans making a public plea for the country to unite around the Olympic successes, and seek to remove violence from our lives, and for gun men to realise that they are murdering future champions. Former PM Portia Simpson-Miller said it this morning on TV; Ms. Fraser's mother said it too, noting that good can come from the ghetto (her family live in Waterhouse, a tough district of Kingston). I will claim that I said it first

Can' beat dis!

We cannot forget Lightning striking for the first time. But wait. Wha' me a see?
Jamaican girls run and win one, two, three.
I'm sure that Torri Edwards flew and that it was a false start,
But the run started same way, Jamaicans performing pure art.

We wanted to make history and that we did for true.
When you look at the results you see we get one, two, two!
We see a tie for second, so we get one gold and two silver.
First time this happen? Yes, man, first time ever.

We want the anthem played three times.
We want to bawl and shed tears.
When the Jamaican flag rises up.
We want to see it fly for years.


Enough poetry for the moment, as we savour our own poetry in motion. Words cannot explain the feeling of seeing the two sprint blue ribbon finals run down by Jamaicans, and by massive margins--the winning margin for men and women was the same. Yam sales will soar. Bammy exports will triple. Jerk chicken will be on every child's menu. Pack naseberries in every lunch box. Banana and dumpling for breakfast must be the rule. I wonder how many church services were stopped in mid-sermon this morning, and might not yet have re-started.

Big up for Shelley-Ann Fraser (10.78), Sherrone Simpson (10.98) and Kerron Stewart (10.98). No need to discuss who should have been added to the team. You can't get better than taking the first three places. So, stop the nonsense about Veronica Campbell. Excitement mounts for the relays, now. Wow!

On the false start, the IAAF site shows that it was an optical illusion; Edwards reaction time was well within the accepted range (see site). Anyway, she came last, so no argument.

Jamaica will get so many kudos for these performances and we all know that today the world will not suddenly become like heaven but you have to hope that Jamaicans will feel inspired to grab hold of the wrong in their society and wring its neck till it has no more life to spoil the future for so many youth.

We can sell our lifestyle and our diet and hope that this will produce great sprinters elsewhere. We Irie! We cool! No problem! Cool runnings! But the secret is in many things. When you look deep into the stats you'll see Caribbean origins in many more than those who now wear the colours of the region. Without too much more analysis now, we are obviously doing something right in our little island lives.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why mi Asafa so bad.

A Jamaican friend of mine is suffering deep psychological trauma, diagnozed as "recurring-Asafa-has-turned-in-another-defeat" (RAHTID) syndrome. The symptoms have developed throughout the day since this morning's first human wingless flight in Beijing. Reactions have included a violent sneezing fit brought on by the mere mention of the words Bolt, Usain, stupendous, incredible, or references to sprint double. So, we had to escape and try to drown her sorrows in the sandy oasis called Hellshire Beach, just outside Kingston, where we were immersed in some seriously mystical Ital herbal medicines, which some smoked, some inhaled, and others watched being administered. We also took some rustic cures that involved lobsters, fried fish, fish soup, and roasted breadfruit. The morose expression and lassitude were reversed only by the presentation of a fried lobster, whose spines reminded her of Bolt's legs and she loved breaking every single one with her teeth. However, no sooner had the symptoms begun to dissipate, than there would be yet another excruciating replay of the 100 metres final, and new treatment was needed.Where you gonna run? Where you gonna hide?

She is still "kinda frass", as Jamaicans say, meaning pretty frustrated, that her heart-throb has once again let her down by not bringing home the gold medal in his speciality event. She is not yet consoled that another Jamaican will dance his way back with this in his hand. Yes, Bolt's performance was electrifying, but the shock of Asafa's defeat needs many days of healing.

She was tired of all the "bad mouthing" before the Games that Asafa cannot handle the pressure of the big international events. Now, she is even more weary as this continues after the latest defeat. One of Jamaica's great athletes, turned commentator, Grace Jackson, was fanning the flames last night by saying that Asafa now needs to "go back to the drawing board" and have "mental training" for how to run in the big events. I have a feeling that my friend is going nuts and would like to do to Miss Grace what Jesse Jackson said he wanted to do to Obama. Her face says "Woman, you wan' me draw board cross you mout'?"

Asafa is not helping the healing of this syndrome with his admission that this time he did not have the legs to run four rounds at the Olympics. What him a train for? Getting eliminated in the semis? Cooyah! I'm not sure how you can go to the Olympics and win in four rounds if you only have legs for three. His mother is unwittingly supporting the nay sayers by admitting that Asafa does not like pressure, but added that he seemed to have had the pressure taken off him with the pre-race hype over Usain. Plenty of Jamaicans will wonder if Asafa is playing ginnal. We may need a long time to bolt down the real problem. I believe Asafa genuinely struggles on the biggest stage--hard to explain, but the results point that way. But, my friend is not being run down by these blips. She is still going to watch him wash his cars in the drive way, be ready to give him imaginary back rubs, and love him up till the next big test.

No Swiss miss this time.

Today's been a day to enjoy unique sporting moments. I wont get over the Usain Bolt's unprecedented and incredible win in the Olympic 100 metres final for a while. But, I was also following another sporting hero, as Roger Federer was chasing his dream of an Olympic gold medal. He lost the chance in the singles, losing in the quarter finals, and may see his nemesis, Rafael Nadal, take that medal just as he becomes the world's number one tennis player. Yet, playing in doubles with Stanislav Wawrinka, Federer defeated the top seeded Bryan brothers in the semi-finals and then won the final against a pair from Sweden, Simon Aspelin and Thomas Johansson 6-3, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-4.

Federer and Wawrinka have now won Switzerland's second Olympic tennis gold medal: Marc Rosset won the gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. The doubles win does not compensate for other defeats in singles tournaments or losing the number one ranking, but is another unique milestone in Federer's amazing tennis career, and a superb reward for his nation and his good friend Wawrinka, who has made a rapid rise in the ranks over the last 12 months.

Jamaica launches weapon of mass destruction.

Usain took off, and has landed at his target: Lightning struck for the first time as Bolt went airborne and landed at 9.69 seconds (6 and 9 are lucky numbers for the Chinese). He took off and raced for about 50 metres, got his two metre lead, then started celebrating from about 80 metres. If he had not beat his chest so hard from that point he might have been closer to 9.5. Then after the celebration, he went into the gully creeper dance. Wow! Can he be caught for the double?

A real emotional hug for Asafa for not making a medal place. The family had been interviewed on TV while watching the race, and I know they are heart broken and disappointed. That was really too hard. As the family says, though, "We love you the same way. We gonna hug him and give him a big kiss."

For Michael Frater, he broke the 10 second barrier, with 9.97. Jamaica looks to be a lock for the 4x100 metres relays, if the team can pass the baton.

Triniman Richard Thompson stuck in there for silver (does he have Jamaican roots?), and pushed the lone American, Walter Dix, into bronze medal place.

Jamaican women looked likely to get three into the final and have a runner who looks and acts a little like Usain. Bolt yourself down for more excitement.

Olympic Games

The Olympic spirit is alive and well. Why?

Cheating: Despite the apparent cheating of Fernando Gonzalez in the men's singles tennis, when the ball clearly hit his racket but he did not react and concede the point, but acted as if nothing had happened, and went on to win the match against James Blake. Cheap shot.

Bad sportsmanship: Despite the Armenian born Swedish wrestler, who was enraged by the judging that led to his loss in the semis and let his anger go over to the medal ceremony, where he took off his bronze medal and put it on the mat. The Olympic organizers disqualified him and stripped him of his medal for his lack of spirit of fair play.

Winning by a hair's breath: Michael Phelps lost the 100 metres final, or so it seemed to the naked eye. Even after multiple replays it was impossible to understand how Phelps outtouched the Serb, whose hand seemed to hover on the wall while Phelps was still in mid-stroke. No shrieking or screaming from the Serbs but a respectful protest--and quite natural to do so. But after frame-by-frame replays to satisfy the Serb camp, the loser was convinced; he had lost by the narrowest of electronic measured differences. The thickness of skin was all that separated Phelps from defeat and continuation of his quest.

All in God's hands: Before the men's 100 metres final, all eight finalists, bent their knees in prayer together ahead of the race. I don't know if that is the first time that has happened, but it's the first time that it was televised.

Olympic spirit: Those poor girls from places like Djibouti and Afghanistan, trying to run sprints in a shadour and hood. Into a head wind they could end up in the sailing regatta. Good for progress of women in Muslim countries, but they can't succeed like this.

World records: My next child (not yet on the way) will not be called Michael Phelps. The smashing of barriers is part of sporting achievement. Usain Bolt has run fewer than 15 official 100 metres as a professional (only one of them was under 10 seconds); and breaks the world record twice.

National pride: Three Jamaican men in the 100 metres final and all products of the national program; no need to go to the US to be developed. Where did all those Jamaicans come from in the Bird Nest Stadium? They outnumbered the Chinese in a flash. Big up!

Gay beaten by Jamaican men in China

I've waited a few weeks to be able to write this title. But this time I have no problem with Jamaicans beating up Gays. This time, the collective trio of Bolt, Powell, and Frater put the Gay man in his place--5th and out of qualification for the 100 metres finals in Beijing. He and the host of other American sprinters can wonder how they will will the 4x100 metres relay; lots of time to relax and reflect, Tyson.

We now have a couple of hours to wait to see if Lightning will strike again. He looked awesome again, running hard for 50 metres, then stopping to buy some fish and bammy on the way to the tape. Asafa looked good too, but did not seem as easy as Bolt; he only had time to pick up a patty and looks good enough to push the final to the wire. Michael Frater, solid as ever, but that elusive sub-10 seconds race may have to come in the final; no time to pick up food.

Caribbean runners will fill six of the 8 places in the final--including two dangerous men from Trinidad, and a dangerous looking Netherlands Antillean has the other place. The races helped a bunch men to personal bests. Derrick Atkins from Bahamas and Kim Collins from St. Kitts and Nevis ran great races but just lucked out. It would have been too much for the Caribbean to have all eight places. No true?

While the sprinters cool down and regroup, I will get some energy-fill up breakfast and enjoy the next round of the women's sprinting, where the Caribbean is again looking for a lot of success.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Will Lightning strike in the same place twice?

Bloggers are always told that they need to post material regularly so that their audience does not have to deal with too much emptiness in its life. I don't want to build up dependency, in myself if I do not write, or in my readers if they do not have rivetting material from me to read. But, when I go to Jamaica, several things seem to happen. First, I think a lot--usually in the clear, still, cool hills of Mandeville as I walk in the mornings. Second, I eat a lot: Jamaican food that I crave comes at me from all sides, and I have a hard time saying "No", even to simple dishes such as patty and coco bread, or breakfast classics such as mackerel rundown (cooked in coconut, with yam, breadfruit, banana, and "Johnny cakes" [fried dumplings]). Third, I try to notice differences between the ways that things are dealt with in Jamaica compared to other Caribbean islands. Fourth, I enjoy just chilling out.

This break in Jamaica has been a bit different because I have become absorbed in the fever of the Beijing Olympics. My thinking has been mostly about the things that make for a great athlete and wondering about the wide differences in the way that societies and countries view and treat athletes, sports and games. In addition, I have eaten and chilled out a lot, including in the rarified air of Strawberry Hill, in the Blue Mountains outside Kingston. Cooling out in one of the hideaways of Bob Marley and other reggae greats is good therapy: "No woman, no cry".

While much of the world has been bemused by the Michael Phelps phenomenon in his "Razor" suit in the swimming pool--is he man, is he fish?--and whether he can do seven times seven of gold medals and world records, we in Jamaica are interested but not rivetted. Jamaica is on the verge of a seeing an amazing dream realized. It has the two fastest men in the world running in Beijing to try for gold. For me, the real problem is that there are no certainties, so I have to endure seeing one man who is clearly capable of running faster than anyone else and with amazing ease, have to go through the hoops of heats and later rounds. You can't help but think "Something bad is going to happen. I can't watch." You get especially nervous when the man from Palau, with a personal record of about 11.4 (a time I ran as a boy) makes a false start and raises the risk of our man (over 2 seconds faster) getting the boot if he then has a false start--a rule that is so stupid and open to manipulation.

Usain Bolt (aka "Lightning") looks like he has all the goods. He is a 6 feet 5 inch man child, who hit the world when he won the 2002 World Junior Championship, as a 15 year old, right on home soil in Kingston, Jamaica. He smashed the national schoolboy record for 400 metres, by nearly one second in 45.4 seconds, months later. He now walks the 100 metres, while others huff and puff, and records times under 10 seconds like it's in slow motion. Like America's Michael Johnson, he could easily have become an Olympian 200-400 doubler. Instead, he headed down in distance. Maybe, he may move to try the 100-200-400 treble, when he grows up. People in Jamaica wonder if "Lightning" should be running against horses instead of humans. The adrenalin level was under control until the track and field started last night. Since then, the island has been rocking to the cadence of fast feet running in China.

Jamaica has a good compliment of athletes due to perform on the track, mainly in the explosive events such as the sprints. Coming into this Olympian year, we already had our Hercules. We had the world record holder in the short sprint, Asafa Powell. He looked a good bet for the final if not the gold, but he had a record of "underperformance" in the big finals ("Asafa too sof'...", or "Asafa, we a suffer" comments were often heard), so would have only one way to get that fragility monkey off his back--win the gold. Then buddum. Up strides "Lightning", whose coach wanted him to get in some speed work to help his 200 metres running. Whoops. New world record of 9.72 seconds. Since then, almost every time "Lightning" bolts he is a man apart--barely a man at 21. So, the bolt is naturally quick, and the 200 should be a lock (unless he gets a muscle pull or cramp, or one of those sneak thieves catch him with a false start), or his urine sample has the structure of a stallion.

So far, everything is going to plan; the main men are through to the semis. Jamaica may have to deal with an influx of scientists and nutritionalists if we sweep the 100 metres (yes, we have a third athlete who is a contender). Everyone will want to know what we do to produce these kinds of runners. Culture? Running as slaves to get away from Massa's whip? The food? We all love those great starches like yam, dumplings, cassava, boiled green bananas. We fill up on natural vitamins from all our fruits and their juices (mangoes, pineapples, bananas). We move easily to our rhythms that everyone wants to try to emulate. We have our easy, and easy to mock style of hurry up: "Soon come...never reach", "No problem...", "Cool runnings..." We are quick to get excited.

The sports commentators on TV are struggling even after a week with the 12 hour time difference. They have come up with little that is brilliant in terms of insights. They have had good practice in pronouncing the names of athletes from places like the Ukraine and Uzbekistan, and know that the Maldives are not something that happens in the swimming pool. But I think all of this gloss with shatter if tomorrow, in the final, Lightning strikes gold for the first time. If he and Asafa make 1-2, then "Lawd!". If we sweep, clear the streets because we are going to party.