There is some speculation that Jamaican men could win gold, silver and bronze in the Olympics. There is no doubt that we have the talent to do this – if you look at the number of times athletes have run below 9.85 seconds you will see that Jamaican athletes dominate, and the trio of Bolt, Blake, and Powell lead the field. (I also think it will take a sub-9.8o time to win, though London may be a tough environment for anyone to run these times.)
The question is therefore not whether we have the talent, but whether we are ready to perform in London. Leaving fitness aside, there are some factors for us to consider.
The first is what my old man used to say, “If you eat your money and fart, don’t expect any change.” I never understood half of the things my old man said because he was often smoking weed when he said it, but this one I understood.
We, as Jamaicans, have a tendency to waste what we have (eat our money) and still expect to have things left over (fart and expect change). This problem has dogged Jamaican athletes and musicians for years. They will hit upon success, spend all their money on the latest model cars, girls, clothes, houses, etc, help maintain all their 50 close followers (or ‘hangers-on’ as we call them), party ’till them drop every night, ‘splurt’ like crazy, etc, and then look surprised when they find that they have nothing left.
As Jamaicans we all know that the most chronic problem of our athletes and performers is mental discipline. Few of our ‘stars’ seem to be able to see success as a start and not as an end; few see fame as an opportunity that requires them to continue working hard, training hard, and staying focused on excelling. This has dogged our Reggae Boyz footballers for years – the sense of being too important to listen to anyone, too important to focus on getting the job done, too important to be disciplined by a manager.
It is, I think, also for this reason that many Jamaicans are concerned about Usain Bolt in particular. Bolt is a phenomenon, but he is also young, and perhaps doesn’t fully appreciate just how much his success is Jamaica’s success. Brand Jamaica is built on names – Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Jimmy Cliff, the Bobsled team. For many of us it’s not just that we want a Jamaican to win the Olympics 100m, we want Bolt to win because of the effect on the brand. Bolt winning gives a collective lift to all our identities. Deon Hemmings might have been the first Jamaican woman to win gold at the Olympics, but when we tell people that we are from Jamaica no one asks, “Isn’t that where Deon Hemmings is from?” Sad, but true. This is the reality: Bolt has charisma and appeal, and he has built a brand that helps Jamaica.
Hence Bolt partying, Bolt crashing his BMW, Bolt buying a cheetah, Bolt staying out late at night, Bolt dating a white girl, etc seems to all of us as Bolt eating his money. It bothers us much more than the usual foolishness of the Reggae Boyz, whose momentary and flamboyant flirt with fame fizzled a long time ago.
We want Bolt to win. Plain and simple. And so we want Bolt to remain focused and disciplined, and we want him to train much harder than he parties. Some of us fear that he may be rusty.
Blake, on the other hand, seems to have a hunger; he’s still in the stage where he is reaching for fame. All of us will remember Bolt at that stage, the look on his face when he won gold in 2008, the concentration and training that went into seeking that big prize. I feel that Blake has had this hunger now for some time, while Bolt is trying to reconnect with it. You need that hunger to succeed, and you need to stay hungry if you want to continue to excel. Bolt has been eating, a lot, and doesn’t seem hungry. Blake looks hungry, and my fear has always been that he may feel so famished that he might do something foolish to win. (Many Jamaicans know what I mean.)
The conditions in London may also favor Blake – with a lower centre of gravity and an explosive start out of the blocks, he may be very hard for Bolt to catch in sub-ideal weather.
Asafa’s issues are well-known – the crude among us call it stage fright, the more sophisticated speak of lack of exposure, referring to the fact that he did not go through the Boys Champs process. His problem is not fame or lack of discipline, or hunger, it is anxiety and lack of self-confidence when the big moment comes. I think the critics have been correct on this score, but I also think this is an issue in the past for Asafa. He has been around long enough now, and performed at enough big meets, and endured the vicious tongue of Jamaicans for long enough to be ready. The issue for me is whether he is in top shape and feeling confident about himself. The last 2 races I saw he ran extremely well and nearly had Bolt at the line. If he were to get a similarly good start on Bolt, feel confident in himself, and run the sub-9.8 time that he is capable of, then look out!
But while our athletes may be their own biggest obstacle, we also have other challenges in this Olympics. The Americans are in form, and I suspect that Justlin Gatlin has been to see a voodoo man in Haiti – he too has a lean and hungry look, and the glint of medal in his eyes. Tyson Gaye also seems extremely focused. And there are others.
Anyway, here are my predictions for the final:
1. If security around our training camp is slack and our boys can slip out to party, then we will get bronze and nothing more.
2. If Asafa Powell is again in love with someone very attractive, and feels confident in himself, he may run hard enough to get silver; if he’s not in love then he’ll be 5th.
3. If the final is run on a cold, bleak, dreary, typical London day, then we should be happy if the boys finish the race.
4. If there is some quarrel in the camp, and ‘bad-blood’ sets in, then silver is the best we can get. (And all hopes for the relay would be lost.)
5. If the boys are not given Jamaican porridge for breakfast, if there is no yam to be found in Brixton to make their lunch, and if there is no cold milo readily available, then Jehovah bless us! We are doomed!
If all is well – Bolt is not allowed to party, Powell is in love, Blake the Beast gets his 12 bananas with his breakfast, and our guardian midgets are merciful – then its 1-2-3. As for the order of that 1-2-3, I’d say Blake, Bolt, Powell.
So mi seh aya!
Prof. Mary Hanna, foremost literary critic in Jamaica, has published a book in which she lists the 50 best Jamaican books to read for Jamaica’s 50th anniversary. She selected 16 works of fiction, and Disposable People is one of the 16! You can find her book, JAMAICA WRITES 50 Great Reads for Jamaica’s 50th, on Amazon.