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.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

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.

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