Ezekel Alan

This blog is about: cotton candy, cold milo, midgets, mangoes, sex, aged rum – everything but writing my next book

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

Cheating – in athletics, not relationships or politics

List of Major League Baseball players suspende...

At the end of my chain-smoking day, I put aside my weed, and I sometimes pray;

I say to the Lord, “I have never been gay, but I would like gays to be treated in a proper way.”

There are all kinds of things that come to my mind at the end of each day. These days my thoughts often turn to the Republican party in the US, and what could happen to American society if they were to come to power. I have heard some words and seen some deeds that have caused more than a small amount of consternation in me, a black man. I sometimes wonder what I would be thinking if I were a woman, or gay.

I read a New York Times article the other day that spoke of the dark (in deeds, not colour) road to the White House that some folks seem to be taking, and the devious means being pursued. (See article here.)

But that’s not what this blog today is about.

Neither is it about whether Jamaican men cheat in relationships, which is a subject that draws an awful lot of visitors to this website.

The question for today’s blog is ‘Do Jamaican men cheat in athletics?’

Or is it the question?

Carl Lewis rubbed me mighty wrong before, during and after the Olympics with his less than sincere concerns about the standards of drug testing in Jamaica, and his blatantly nasty insinuations about Usain Bolt’s performance. He wanted the world to take a good look at drug testing standards and facilities in our little, poor, backward, third world nation, because to him, it is unthinkable that we could produce athletes that could not only beat but humble his countrymen.

At the end of my chain-smoking day I started to reflect on the fact that no prominent Jamaican athlete has ever been tested positive for drugs in any international event. So, let us assume that we evaded detection at home, and made it to the world stage where drug-testing facilities are better. Nothing. (Not yet, and I hope not ever.)

The US, on the other hand, has had a long string of domestic and international drug-testing scandals. In fact, I don’t think there is any other country that has reported as many prominent cases of doping.

I found on the internet a list of the top ten sports figures whose careers have been tarnished by allegations or evidence of doping:

10. Shawne Merriman, NFL, San Diego Chargers – USA

9. Jose Canseco, MLB  – USA

8. Rafael Palmeiro, MLB – USA

7. Ben Johnson, Olympic Sprinter – Canada

6. Floyd Landis, American Cyclist – USA

5. Kostas Kenteris & Ekaterini Thanou, Olympians – Greece
4. Barry Bonds, MLB  – USA

3. Alex Rodriguez, MLB – USA

2. Marion Jones, Olympian – USA

1. Roger Clemens, MLB  – USA

(Read more at http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-sports-figures-steroids.php#oSZ8XXj5GYCp8svm.99)

Let’s forget about the unspoken suspicions around a whole generation of runners in the Flo Jo era, and get to BALCO, Marion Jones and a sub-industry producing drugged up athletes. Should we then move to Barry Bonds?

English: Marion Jones - September 30th, 2000 a...

Marion Jones – September 30th, 2000 at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, let us instead look at this Lance Armstrong case – which is interesting for the fact that we are not talking about one person, but a whole network of cyclists who are confessing to the fact that there was some kind of ‘operation’ going on.

I don’t know if Lance is guilty or innocent, and a part of me wants him to be innocent, partly because I want to believe there is some good in us, but mostly because of his fight with cancer, and the fact that I hate to see someone’s reputation and life ruined and destroyed without solid evidence.

English: Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 T...

Cyclist Lance Armstrong (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I find also really interesting is that the great World Anti-Doping Agency and the US anti-doping bodies could have been testing this man for over 7 years and now need to rely on witnesses to testify that he was taking drugs. I really wonder what Carl Lewis and the whole lot of them have to contribute to this issue of the caliber of these first world drug testing bodies.


The way we are – 3

“Look at me, I’m perfect, pure symmetry!”

“What the f— are you looking at?”

(All photos by Ezekel Alan. Selections from my photo journal.)

The worst moment for the US in the 2012 Olympics?

I believe that the men’s 4×100 meters track race might have provided the US athletes with their worst moment in the 2012 Olympics. Let me tell you why.

What it meant

  • Jamaica had won the men and women’s 100 meter races, which are seen as the top athletic events at the Olympics. While Jamaica also swept the men’s 200 meter event, the USA took two of the medals, including gold, in the women’s 200 meters race. This placed the advantage in Jamaica’s court.
  • But the US stormed back by winning the women’s 4×400 in dominating style, and also took the 4×100 in a similar but world record-setting manner.
  • At this point, the bragging rights were approaching even because the US now had one of the only two World Records at the meet, and also had the only athlete with 3 gold medals – Alison Felix. They had also blown away our girls in the 4×100 and 4×400.
  • The 4×100 men was therefore a pivotal race, not only in terms of deciding bragging rights re the number of important track events won, but also in determining if Bolt would join Felix with 3 golds (if not Felix would take bragging rights given that she also had a world record). Then there is also the special significance of the 4×100 as the highly prestigious closing track event of the Olympics. The last race that people would remember. The 4×100 mattered, and quite a lot.
  • The fact that Jamaica won, Bolt got a third gold and a World Record, not only made Bolt the single most celebrated track athlete at the Olympics, but also gave Jamaica a decisive hold on the claim of being the most dominant country in the track events. But this isn’t all that makes that race so difficult for the US.

Bragging rights

After this victory, no one would speak of Felix being the dominant track athlete

How it happened

  • The defeat was made fifty times worse for the US because of how it was done. The US had an excellent game plan – start off extremely strong, execute baton change well, and give Bailey a lead to try to hold off Bolt. This lead was to come from Gatlin and Gaye.
  • Gaye was therefore a crucial part of the US strategy. Gaye, perhaps the most talented US athlete never to have won an Olympic medal, was hungry for that prize. He said it many times before the games. Having failed in the 100m final, this was his last opportunity for gold. The race mattered significantly, and his role in it was crucial. His job was to give Bailey a lead that he could use to fight off Bolt, give Gaye his gold, and swing the bragging rights pendulum firmly back to the US.
  • Gaye got the baton first and took off around the corner. I believe the single worst moment of his life, and for the US athletics team in London, is when he saw the gold jersey of the Jamaican Beast, Yohan Blake, pull up comfortably beside him. I cannot imagine anything more demotivating that the certainty of knowing that with Bolt about to receive the baton at the same time as Bailey any remote opportunity for an American gold medal had then completely vanished.

The way we are – 2

Youth and friendship

The long loneliness of old age

(All photos by Ezekel Alan. Selections from my photo journal.)

Is Usain Bolt the greatest athlete of all time?

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record ...

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record in the 100m at the bird’s nest, during 2008 Beijing olympics, august 16th (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since his famous and electrifying victory in the London Olympics 200 meters race and his comment that he’s the greatest athlete ever, Usain Bolt has stirred up considerable debate in the media and across social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

After the race Bolt also made the comment that he’s now a living legend. He said it without caramel, honey or sugar-coating, and as a result his comment hasn’t gone down well with many folks who seem to be choking on it.

The first quick reaction came from a familiar source, IOC chairman Jacques Rogge, who was less critical than in 2008 but equally clear in his views – not so fast young man, he says, you have to prove yourself over a career and not only over two Olympics. Rogge was quoted as saying, “The career of Usain Bolt has to be judged when he has retired,”  noting that Carl Lewis amassed medals over 4 Olympics and therefore has a greater claim to the title of being greatest.

Jacques Rogge

Jacques Rogge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Carl Lewis, for his part, has commented that Bolt’s times were essentially nothing special. His views were echoed in some parts of American media, where commentators have been saying that because timing equipment were not that good in bygone decades, then no one knows how fast people have run before. Lewis has, on more than one occasion, also hinted at the possibility of drugs being the reason for Bolt’s exceptional performances. Other commentators online have said that as soon as Bolt’s world records are broken then Bolt will be forgotten.

While others have gone even further to say that Bolt may be the best Sprinter but he’s not the best Athlete, often citing Michael Phelps and his 18 gold medals as another candidate for the title ‘best athlete’.

These are those who have been choking on Bolt’s comments. On the other side of the fence we have not only Bolt and thousands of Jamaicans, but people such as Lord Sebastian Coe, who have said that what Bolt has done in pulling off back to back Olympic victories in both the 100 and 200 meter events makes him a legend. (See Coe’s comments here.)

What should we consider to be the truth? First, let us say that as a general rule athletes should let the world be their judge rather than try to be the judge of their own greatness. I don’t think it was necessary for Bolt to make those comments about himself, and would agree that it was lacking in taste and good judgement.

Second, we can also safely say that Carl Lewis, as always, appears to hate the fact that the world’s attention is centered on someone other than himself. He was a great athlete but has never been truly likeable to the rest of the world, and we can see why again. All his statements hinting at drugs point to Jamaica – yet he was never the one to make allegations against Marion Jones, Flo Jo, or any American sprinter. There is nothing honourable in his comments, they are inspired by petty malicious jealousies, and should be seen for what they are.

Carl Lewis at the "green carpet" for...

Carl Lewis (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Likeable?

These aside, we should also recognise that:

  •  We view excellence from the perspective of the point in time in which we live

As human beings we tend to bestow the title “greatest ever” on those athletes that live in our own time. This is why, for instance, if you do a casual browse of different websites which rate best footballers of all time, the greats of years gone by tend to fade in the lists, and get replaced by the Lionel Messis and Zidanes etc. It is simply harder for someone who knows little about Eusebio (Portugal, 1957-79) to see him as a better football player than Messi who they might have watched play, without even looking at goal scoring stats. This is also why just about every decade the lists of the 7 Wonders of the World change and bring in more contemporary Wonders.  We give a value of 100 to our time, and we undervalue both the past and the future. This is simply how humans are conditioned to behave.

  • We view excellence based on our connection with the personality

It is also likely that we will see the “best player’ as someone we can relate to, as opposed to someone we find arrogant and offensive. Here I am not even making a comparison between Carl Lewis and Bolt, but rather a general observation. Cristian Ronaldo is a magnificent footballer, and scores as many goals as Messi, but Messi gets rated above him on virtually all lists of the best. People simply like Messi more, and almost all judgements made about who is ‘the best’ are subjective and based on a majority perspective.

  • We view excellence based on our connection with the sport

Then there is also our connection with the sport and its universal appeal. There are no doubt amazing athletes in baseball, cricket, swimming (Phelps, etc), but these sports do not have the appeal of football or of the 100 meters track and field race. Few people in the world will care about or know who broke what baseball record, or the 50m butterfly. Even if we read about it, it simply does not stick in our collective memory.

What does this all tell us? Simply, that this is Bolt’s moment, his time; that the world likes him an awful lot more than either Phelps, or Lewis; and millions of people regard the 100 and 200 meter Olympic finals as the pinnacle athletic events. He is therefore being celebrated for being a great athlete of our time, and possibly longer. His memories will fade in time, make no mistake about it, for this is the fate of all great athletes.  But for those of us who have lived to see him, whether on t.v. or in person, there is no doubt in our minds that he’s something extraordinary.

The way we are


Minor imperfection

Terrible imperfection

Same fruit, different perspectives.

(All photos by Ezekel Alan. Selections from my photo journal.)

What makes Usain Bolt and black athletes so good in the sprints?

Jesse Owens shook racial stereotypes both with...

Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why do black athletes dominate the sprint events?

A few weeks ago there was quite some controversy over this issue because of a comment made by American athlete, Michael Johnson, that black athletes dominate the sprint events because of something in their genes.

It was not a very politically correct thing to say, but more than a few people thought that there was something interesting in the comment. First, there is no doubt that blacks – Black Americans, Jamaicans and other blacks from the Caribbean etc – have held dominance over the sprint events for decades. Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Usain Bolt, Linford Christie, Donovan Bailey, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Gail Devers, Shelly-Ann Fraser, Veronica Campbell, etc – all blacks. What about the current top athletes for the 100m and 200m events in London? Almost all black – look at the lineup for the 100m men’s final as an example. (If you don’t recall the runners, the photo below should help. By the way, the 8th athlete who isn’t in the photo, is Asafa Powell, Jamaican and black.)

The color of the sprint gene?

The comment that Johnson made was this, “Difficult as it was to hear, slavery has benefited descendants like me. I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us.”

His argument, and the argument made by others like him, including various scientists, is:

  1. the strongest slaves were selected from Africa and shipped to the New World,
  2. only the very strongest survived the deadly Middle Passage (the journey across the Atlantic in the slave ships.)
  3. many slave owners participated in ‘selective’ slave breeding to ensure that stronger slaves were created
  4. only the strongest slaves survived the terrible conditions of life on the sugar and cotton plantations.

Essentially, the argument touches on Darwinism  – survival of the fittest.

Other commentators have also commented on whether there is something in the Jamaican diet and so forth, but these arguments are more spurious and not worth further exploration. Not every black athlete who has won the Olympic 100m has eaten yam.

So, as I was saying, there is a certain allure to this line of reasoning. One of its failings, however, is that it doesn’t help us to understand whether only West African slaves had the ‘speed genes’ as opposed to, let us say, East African slaves. The East African countries have been dominant in middle and long distance races, but you don’t see Ethiopians or Kenyans in the 100 and 200 meters events. They are unbeatable in just about everything else. This is part of our first puzzle.

The other puzzle is why blacks from America and the Caribbean dominate the sprints, as opposed to blacks from Canada, Britain, Germany, South Africa, St. Vincent, Barbados, Nigeria, Uganda, or elsewhere. This is not easy to explain by simply looking at genes and which slaves went to which countries.

I also don’t know that the Chinese are inherently better at table tennis, badminton, gymnastics and diving, or that Europeans are inherently better at cycling.

Here is I believe:

I believe that certain sports are in the national psyche of a country – the country takes pride in it, and tons of youngsters grow up aspiring to be the best at it. It could be because it represents a way out of poverty for many, or because it is deeply embedded in the very way of life of the people (like football for Brazil and the 100m and 200m sprints for Jamaica). For us, the entire country watches not only at Olympics but at Boys and Girls Championship events, Primary School Championships, National Trials, etc.  Oftentimes Chinese gymnast leave their families and normal schools at a young age to train for the Olympics, because this is somehow an event of national pride. It is the same for us, there is a national movement supporting our young sprinters and relay runners.

I don’t know what the original trigger was that led certain countries to identify with certain sports, but I think when it becomes a part of the national culture and psyche,  it creates a passion to win that leads to excellence. Perhaps when you combine some genetic predispositions with this national hunger and passion and tireless training, you have a formula that leads athletes from certain countries to shine in selected events.

By the way, with regards to Usain Bolt, my humble opinion is that once every fifty or a hundred years an athlete is born who is simply unnaturally gifted. He is not only a legend, but a unique human being with unnatural abilities. He confesses, for instance, that he trains less than his big rival, Yohan Blake who also, arguably, seemed to have had a greater hunger for gold. Yet Bolt, once again, stepped far ahead of the field.

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record ...

Usain Bolt after his victory and world record in the 100m at the bird’s nest, during 2008 Beijing olympics, august 16th (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’d love to know your thoughts.

We are the people of legends – Usain Bolt Strikes Again!

Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser – worth their weight in gold


There is no better Independence Day gift Jamaicans could have asked for than this – Shelly-Ann Fraser and Veronica destroying the field in the women’s 100m sprint, and Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake taking home gold and silver in the men’s 100 m.

Lightning rarely strikes twice in the same place, but both Bolt and Shelly-Ann came back to the Olympics stage and repeated the remarkable feat of retaining their 100 m titles. Moreover, Bolt set Olympic records on both occasions! Not only has he been able to convincingly demonstrate that he is the fastest man alive, but he has now confirmed his status as a legend and a fighter. Many persons, including yours truly, had doubts about his fitness and focus leading up the big event. But he proved that he had the spirit of a fighter in him! Beaten by Blake in both the 100m and 200m at the Jamaican national trials, we all worried that he might not have been at the peak of his performance. But he clearly went into serious training, locking himself away from the limelight and distractions of the media, and focusing on his game.  And what a Bolt it was that turned up for the show! Relaxed, confident, powerful – he got a decent start and by the 50m mark it was clear that he could not be beaten because he was level with the rest of the field and beginning to open up those famous 2 meter strides. This was certainly the most memorable 100m race I have ever seen – it was simply breathtaking!

From the videos I saw of Half Way Tree Road after the event, the impact of this victory on Jamaica is inestimable. It comes just in time for our Independence Celebrations. It comes with gold and silver. And it comes with a comprehensive whipping of our great 100m rivals, the Americans.

This matters so much to us as a people – Jamaica, the biggest small island. In spite of all our hardships, to see our athletes, men and women, go on a world stage, in the home of our former colonizer, and side-by-side with another giant super-power, and completely dominate. This is more than pride. This is what makes us Jamaicans – the knowledge that our size doesn’t matter, we are as good as or better than anyone from any other country. And it is not only in athletics – Jamaicans stand tall in virtually all fields of human endeavor. We are a special people, we are a proud people, we are the people from which legends are made! Bob Marley and Usain Bolt will forever be seen as two of the greatest legends of this century.

Marley performing at Dalymount Park

Bob Marley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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