Jamaica Gleaner / If a pin dropped in Jamaica, no, the world, two Saturdays ago after the 100m at the World Championships, it would have sounded like a bullet. Usain Bolt ran in a race and did not win.
I was among the few who were not too surprised. For me, Mr Bolt, who takes his social life very seriously, had retired – mentally – from track and field for the last few years. Second, regardless of the public comments of he and his coach, no athlete – particularly when strength, speed and flexibility are diminishing – goes on a hiatus weeks before a major event. Unless the competition is regarded inferior.
Dr Usain Bolt has served Jamaica and the world of track and field well. He has caused the world to look in our direction. The Bolt era is over. It is now our turn to make the most of what he left us.
There has been talk of ‘heir apparent’ and ‘successor’. Can we just stop that nonsense before the call gets louder? There can be no successor to a wunderkind. Nature has a way of adjusting the physical makeup of plants and animals, over generations, to enable them to cope and survive in their environment. I suspect this is why Africans do so well in distance races. The verdict is still out on what makes us run fast. It can’t be just yam.
To strengthen my case, I visited the ISSA office and asked for the Boys and Girls Champs records. The lovely lady told me that “that information is not given out”. I wondered aloud that this should be public information, particularly since it is in the Champs programme up to the year I stopped attending because I could no longer legitimately obtain a ticket.
She pointed out that ISSA still has some of those 2017 Champs programmes and I could get one for $600. All I had in my pocket was my jerk pork money, so I left. What I wanted to prove was that the sprint records set by our high-school students – even in Class Two – are better, or compare favourably, with national (senior) records of most countries in the world.
The best athlete I have ever known grew up in my town – Brown’s Town, St Ann. He was powerful and talented. But he did not attend high school. So the glimpses of his prowess were limited to events in Addison Park where, barefooted and shirtless, he would run against the ‘properly’ attired high-school stars. To add a little theatre, he would stop during the race, pick an imaginary corn on his toe, resume running, and win easily looking as fresh as a daisy. The problem is, he did not attend a high school and, in our system, this not just narrowed his options significantly, he came upon many closed doors. His story did not end well.
It is time for us to come back to earth. Winning at international events is not an entitlement. It may be a long time before we win two individual gold medals at the Olympics or World Championships. None of this present crop is going to make it. We need to start a rebuilding process and do it properly this time.
When I joined the staff at Holmwood, one of my greatest concerns was the fact that the overwhelming majority of my students would not be able to afford tertiary education. I struggled for solutions. I learned that there were overseas institutions (thousands of colleges and universities in the US alone) that offered sports scholarships, and jumped on that. What if we were able to bring students to a level of athletic competence that would make them earn some of these scholarships!!
The only person who shared my vision was the late Jackie Bell. He was so sold on this vision, he agreed to ‘trus’ me a few items from his sports goods store to start a little ‘thing’ in which most of the training routines came from exercises I improvised. That was long ago, but Holmwood owes a debt of gratitude to Jackie.
May I suggest that we start with a proper, planned, physical education programme that is mandated for all schools. I say ‘schools’ because this is where we should be able to reach all children.
PE pushed around
At present, physical education gets pushed around and pushed aside to facilitate everything else – including extra classes. But this is the only sure opportunity for every child to access health enhancing, high-quality physical education programmes, characterised by (1) instruction by certified physical education teachers, (2) a minimum of 150 minutes per week for younger children and 225 minutes per week for older students, (3) standards based with assessments based on standards and benchmarks.
As a school subject, PE would focus on teaching children the science and methods of physically active, healthy living, self-efficacy and emotional intelligence. They should leave school having developed a commitment to regular exercise and physical activity.
But the programme needs to reach out into the community to embrace all those who have dropped out of the formal education system.
Because the lesson I learned from the experience of that lad in Brown’s Town is that crime claims anything a community leaves behind – and feeds on it. This early exposure to physical education is a good place to start introducing children to a wide variety of activities. A clumsy footballer may be an excellent swimmer. They would understand the limits of their bodies and be less prone to injuries. They would understand the dangers of bag juice and Cheese Trix. Performance would be greatly improved in a wider variety of sports. A larger number of youngsters would be in demand here and abroad.
The aim of preparing students with a view to getting scholarships is far less exciting than preparing them for Olympic glory. Let me make it clear that I, too, get caught up in this excitement.
I leave several TV sets in my house and journey to Half-Way Tree to stand in the sun to watch a race. I still think Shelly-Ann is going to marry me, and although I am a little confused, I am thrilled when I pass the homes of the very successful ones and see seven cars in the driveway.
But when I come back to earth, I realise that these few millionaires won’t achieve what I want for my country. My vision is to see thousands of young Jamaicans, over time, taking advantage of the billions of dollars in grants and scholarships to improve themselves personally and professionally. That would be a major boost to national development.
I can understand why we may think this way, but we are not the only country with talent. And we have no divine right to gold medals.
But I do think that with proper planning and preparation, a much larger number of our young people will see increased opportunities for advancement. And when the gold medals come, let’s see them as icing on the cake. Seasons come and seasons go.