Jacques Rogge, the Belgian surgeon who is president of the International Olympic Committee, is probably a very charming man to those who know him well. The rest of us, however, can only judge him by his public demeanour and utterances and, frankly, the public persona we observed at the closing ceremony of one of the most enjoyable Olympics in living memory revealed all the charisma of a soggy Brussels sprout.
Worse, his praise for Usain Bolt’s magnificent achievements was grudging at best. Perhaps Dr Rogge is unfamiliar with Caribbean exuberance, uncomfortable with the unadulterated delight exhibited by Mr Bolt in his record-breaking feats and confounded by the sheer scale of the Jamaican speedster’s accomplishments. Whatever the reason, all Dr Rogge succeeds in doing is to portray himself as a complete churl next to the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen.
Granted ‘legend’ is quite possibly one of the most overused epithets in the world of sport, liberally applied to a host of brilliant but not necessarily magical and transcendental sportsmen and women. Such is the way of the modern world in which gushing superlatives abound, especially in the media, where the tendency to sensationalise is most prevalent. But Usain Bolt, treble Olympic Champion and treble world record holder, is, indubitably, a legend.
In the lead-up to London 2012, Mr Bolt was already ranked alongside the greatest sprinters of all time – Jesse Owens, Tommie Smith and Michael Johnson. After defending his Olympic 100m title on August 5, he could arguably already be described as a legend. But it was his definitive triumph in the 200m four days later that moved him past the all-time greats to cement his top spot in the history of sprinting and his place in the pantheon of great athletes.
After being the first athlete to achieve the “double double,” winning the 100m and 200m at successive Olympics, Mr Bolt’s rating as a real life, bona fide, Jamaican, Caribbean and global legend was secure. To have achieved the “double treble,” in anchoring the Jamaican relay team to the gold medal in the 4x100m on the penultimate day of the Games, in world record time no less, put his status beyond dispute.
And to think that coming into the Olympics, there were so many question marks about Mr Bolt’s physical and mental fitness. But as we pointed out in our July 6 editorial, the motivation to be a legend was there and “notwithstanding Mr Bolt’s problems, it would be a rash person indeed who would write off his chances of reprising his Beijing heroics.”
Let us not forget though that we also witnessed other performances on the athletics track that could qualify as legendary – Briton Mo Farah’s emotional 5,000m and 10,000m double, putting him in the distinguished company of the likes of Emile Zapotek of Czechoslovakia, Lasse Viren of Finland, and Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba, respectively the Ethiopian king and queen of distance running; David Rudisha of Kenya, leading from start to finish to smash his own world record in perhaps the most commanding performance ever seen over 800m; Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica, also successfully defending her 100m crown and copping silver in the 200m and the 4x100m relay; and, of course, the elegant and versatile American, Allyson Felix, striding to gold in the 200m and the 4x100m and 4x400m relays.
And what about the golden performances of the two Caribbean 19 year-olds, Kirani James of Grenada, already a World Champion and now an Olympic Champion at 400m, and Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad and Tobago, who became the youngest ever winner of the Olympic javelin title? Surely they have the potential to do so much more and achieve legendary status, even if they already are legends respectively for tiny Grenada and the rural community of Toco, and indeed for the rest of the Caribbean.
So let us forget Dr Rogge’s lack of generosity and the mean-spirited carping of others, mainly Americans, who should know better but who seem upset that Mr Bolt and his fleet-footed compatriots have turned the world order of sprinting upside down. Let us unashamedly celebrate our Caribbean heroes and heroines and hope that, in keeping with the aspiration of the London 2012 organisers, their exploits can inspire a generation, not only to take up sport but also to strive for excellence in all fields of endeavour.