Many did not want London 2012 to end. It has been a true festival of sports.
Into the pot of, perhaps, one of the best Olympic games ever staged has been added the sweetest spices. They come in the form of a little Caribbean Island and its immaculate sprinters.
Descendants of West African slaves have now become kings and queens of global sports. With a population of some two and a half million people huddled in this little region of several islands between the two Americas, Jamaica, has become the toast of the world, attracting unprecedented attention, respect and adulation.
The performances of Jamaican sprinters have left the rest of the world in awe.
If any one person epitomised the best part of the London Olympics it would be Usain Bolt.
And if any one country captures the essence of the Olympics better than others it would be Jamaica. Yet it is not at the top of the medals table. But at the end of the games it resonates best in the minds of people around the world. So what is it about Usain Bolt and Jamaica that stands them out above all others?
The personality of Bolt before the games provided the prospect of a drama such as has never been seen before at any Olympics. After Beijing 2008 he had emerged into the world’s consciousness a unique character – very likeable, playful, extremely friendly, and a showman with a prodigious talent in sprinting. He was the best the world had ever seen. A god! Unbeatable!
So, on the eve of the London games came along another that threatened to demystify Usain – Yohan Blakes, his friend, fellow countryman and training partner. Blakes committed the ‘capital sin’ of doing what was considered ‘impossible’ by beating Bolt twice in a row at national and international meets. Who was this ‘pretender’ that was threatening to bring down a god from his throne? Who the hell was this Blake? Blake shocked the world into attention.
Thus was set the stage for the greatest athletics confrontation in Olympic history. The nature of this rivalry fascinated and captured the imagination of the world. It was a perfect script and drama, and the world was gripped in anticipation of what would happen. The confrontations over 100 and 200 metres, now epics that will be recounted over and over again for a long time to come, became the two most followed events of any Olympic games.
Jamaica did not come even near the top on the medals table. Yet, as the games now draw to a close, aside from Great Britain whose athletes were buoyed by the power of great athletics preparations and unprecedented crowd support to put up superlative performances across many sports, Jamaica is the most talked-about country at these games. The reason lies in the style of their successes and the magnitude of media attention they attracted. For the two days that the 100 and 200 metres took place little else that took place mattered much. Even arguably the best Track and Field performance of the games, the world record breaking 800 metres run of Kenya’s David Rudisha, was relegated into second place by Bolt/Blake part 2. Rudisha is even now been described as the ‘Usain Bolt of the 800 metres’!!
Jamaica has become an interesting case study for sports and social scientists – an authentic superpower of sports impacting positively on the psyche of its people with useful lessons for the rest of the world but particularly the Black race. That every Jamaican is walking tall around the world now is the product of their sports achievements at London 2012 led by Usain Bolt, their country’s greatest global export and ambassador.
This weekend, as the curtains are drawn on a terrific two weeks of an almost flawless organisation, unprecedented media coverage and unforgettable sports performances, it will be good to remember once again the true spirit of the Olympics: that the greater honour lies not in winning but in participating, and that, as Jamaica has shown, a nation does not have to top the Olympics medals table to be a winner!
Nigeria’s missing Gold medal!
This is not the best place and time to be a Nigerian. Many of my friends now jokingly declare they want to adopt Jamaican nationality. Others now also claim to be distant relatives of Bolt, Blakes and the several other Jamaican sprinters that have captured our imagination.
Two weeks ago I wrote about this. I am repeating it here again.
Being the most populated Black nation on earth Nigeria used to be the centre of Black civilisation and achievement. In sports the past holds memories of when the finals of every Olympic sprints event (male and female) would never be complete without the colourful presence of a Nigerian. Check the records through the Olympics since 1976.
Since Jesse Owens’ feats at in the 1936 Berlin games the world has come to respect the Black man as ‘born to sprint’. Of the 21 athletes that have ever run under 10 seconds at all the Olympic games 20 of them have been Blacks! This is a revealing statistic, the product of a combination of factors one of which obviously must be genetic. Somewhere in the DNA of the Black man, particularly those from West Africa from where most of the victims of that distant, painful era of the slave trade were captured and taken to the plantations of Europe and the Americas, resides a gene that is an essential building block of sprinters! So, for whatever reason the Black man can sprint better than all others! Here in Nigeria must be the largest and richest source of that gene, yet the people have not tapped into this natural gift to do what Jamaicans are now doing producing a continuous stream of the world’s best sprinters.
Thats why whereas ‘small’ Jamaica is shining like a million stars ‘giant’ Nigeria is fading like a dying one.
Thats why as the curtains were drawn for the end of the London 2012 Olympics, whereas the streets of every city in Jamaica are jammed with joyous and celebrating people, the streets of Nigerian cities are filled with angry and lamenting people. Nigerians are loudly moaning about the humiliating failure of their athletes at the games to achieve anything of substance.
As the Nigerian team and its officials return to their country the critics are waiting with drawn swords ready to cut to pieces the few people that will become sacrificial lambs made to carry the responsibility for the failure of the country. Nigeria’s poor showing at the games is not the failure of those few people but that of the entire country. It is a reflection of the state of the nation.
Sports cannot be isolate from the larger polity, particularly one that has been gripped in the vice of a siege that continues to imprison development. The failure at the Olympics is once again a manifestation of a systemic failure cultivated by years of neglect and a lack of proper appreciation of the sports sector amongst others. Sports, the arts and the entertainment industry, generally, have suffered seriously from a lack of proper understanding of the sector and the articulation of a clear and simple strategy to harness the sector’s power to impact heavily on the economic, social, cultural and political development of the country.
It is baffling why successive governments at all levels have paid only token attention to sports.
As I depart London from the games, my greatest worry is not the humiliating and painful performances of Nigerian athletes at the games, but the knowledge from past experiences that even as the entire country is going through a traumatic post-Olympics period, the collective feeling of shame and pain will last only for a brief period. For the next week, or so, the criticisms and condemnations will be loud and caustic. Then, one of the seemingly endless series of ‘calamities’ will befall the country again and sport will recede to its place in the dusty archives, returning to the doldrums from whence it came, to be neglected again until the eve of another games! In the next few weeks new panels will be set up again to investigate what happened and why, and make recommendations that will never be implemented! Was there to be a supermarket where ready-made athletes are bought Nigeria would be its best customer. In the absence of such a place the country will return to its old, tested and failed ways, in a vicious cycle that guarantees nothing but failure!
That is the way things have been. That is also the way they shall continue to be until political leaders use the light provided by London 2012 to illuminate the significant role success in sports can play in building a nation and to apply them to change our world. It is in that hope that we go back home and pray that the present ‘calamity’ would mark a turning point in Nigeria’s sports history, providing yet another platform to which the country can anchor its quest to become a global superpower. Should that happen the failure at London 2012 could be converted eventually into Nigeria’s missing Gold medal!