Thursday, 20 August 2009

Is Usain Bolt Jamaica's Muhammad Ali?

Those who are talented enough and work hard enough to represent Jamaica in athletic endeavours (football aside) on the world stage are expected to observe a certain decorum.

Gracious in victory, stoic and sporting in defeat, recent paragons of this code have been Courtney Walsh (who in 1987 cost West Indies a place in the world cup semi-final by refusing to mankad Saleem Jaffar); Asafa Powell (unsmiling, all business before he races, calm and philosophical after losing); and Veronica Campbell-Brown, on the podium in Athens with tears flowing despite her best efforts at control.

Not for us the aggressive swagger of Justin Gatlin, the
out-thrust tongue of Maurice Greene, or the space age glasses of Ato Boldon (remember these?)

Enter Usain Bolt, mugging for the cameras, apparently oblivious to the seriousness of the occasion, irreverent enough to celebrate victory before the finish line, slapping his own chest in a gesture more readily associated with the braggadocio (or what we call 'mouting') of the domino table, and cap it off with the celebratory gully creeper. It's an almost unseemly display of self-confidence. As the man himself described it, "I try to enjoy myself at all times. That's how I stay relaxed. That's who I am and I won't change."

Now maybe I'm imagining things, but did I see Powell slapping hands with Daniel Bailey before the 100m final at the World Championships? And Brigette Foster-Hylton making faces for the camera before her 110m hurdles final? And Melaine Walker piggy-backing on the frigging mascot after winning the 400m hurdles?

It doesn't seem a stretch to see a link between all this self-expression and the ascendancy of Usain Bolt. Now it may be that this is a sign of generational change. That the freedom displayed by the Walkers and Frasers would have come with or without Bolt. Except for the previously unimaginable sight of Powell miming his mouth being taped shut in a light-hearted jab at sports commentator Oral Tracy.

In a milder version of the way that Muhammad Ali was the anti-Jackie Robinson; making it ok for black americans to be themselves, to not worry so much about being a "credit to their race", maybe Usain has shown us that we can be brash, or whimsical, or whoever the hell we really are.

That could be worth even more than a world record or four.
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