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Raffique Shah


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Spirit of the Olympics

By Raffique Shah
July 29, 2012

Over the next two weeks, the politicians and criminals have permission to 'mash up de place'. I don't know about my columnist colleagues, but as the 'Olympics Jumbie' takes possession of my being for the duration of the 30th Olympiad, I want to focus on the beauty of sports, not on the beast that is politics or crime. So if you see Jack Warner in full army regalia marching into Parliament, inspecting a guard of honour comprised of his uniformed PP Government colleagues, don't disturb me. To use the words that another charlatan did 22 years ago, wake me up when it's over.

Really, the Games could not have come at a better time. We all need a respite from the madness that passes for daily life in this cussed country. I seethed with anger last weekend when some heartless beast snuffed out the life of that poor 14-year-old boy in Kelly Village. My family was stunned into close-to-tears silence as we listened to his grieving mother relate the circumstances surrounding his unconscionable murder. Unbelievable barbarism stalks this land.

As the criminals continued their rampage, their disregard for law and order, the nation's politicians jostled with them to plumb new depths of depravity. In a display of utter disregard (that word again!) for the barest standards of behaviour considered acceptable in civilised societies, the entire Government, to a man, woman and sycophantic supporter, rallied behind Warner when he was backed into a shameful corner. Not one among them had the balloons to demand he do the decent thing by resigning, hence save the Government some face. I guess there is no face or reputation to save...only time to continue pillage until, inevitably, the curtain falls.

The Olympics have the mesmerising power to transport us from the purgatory we have been condemned to, albeit temporarily, to take us into the dizzying heights of human achievement. And what a heavenly flight it is. From the creative opening ceremonies to an unimaginable array of supreme sporting performances, the magical glow of the Games warms the hearts of most people.

Think about it. You know little or nothing about gymnastics or diving or equestrian events, but there you are, captivated by the artistry and poetry-in-motion of men and women (and their mounts), you award points for performances! Amazing, isn't it? As one of over 200 countries competing in London, we have representatives in six of 26 sports, in fewer than 20 of 300 events. Yet, most of us will enjoy the Games and stay glued to our television sets for a 16-day treat like no other. That's the power of the Olympics.

I am an athletics person—I have always been. I enjoy watching team sports like cricket, football, basketball and so on. But nothing comes close to two (Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake) or eight (finalists) or 100 (marathoners) men or women matching strength and speed and power and endurance to a finish line that is nine seconds or two hours away. The sprints can be breathtaking, quite literally, in the sense that you hold your breath between the gun and the line. You then breathe again as, thanks to modern technology, you watch replay after replay, and the palpitations diminish as you digest what just happened. In the distance events, you watch for stamina, surges, tactics and ultimately the leg-speed that define winners. Whatever your preferences, there's nothing to beat the thrill of competition (I sneak a peep at the opening cycle race as I write!).

Of course, most people (I and I among them) expect next Sunday's men's 100-metre final to be the greatest race ever. On paper, and based on recent performances, it should be. Five contenders—Bolt, Blake, Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Justin Gatlin—have among them the five fastest times ever for the dash. Bolt (record holder, 9.58) and Gay (9.69) have experienced uncharted speed-territory. And others in the running, our own Keston Bledman (9.86) and Richard Thompson (9.85), Christophe Lemaitre (France, 9.92), Ryan Bailey (USA, 9.93) and Churandy Martina (Curacao/Netherlands) (9.93) have entered the sprinting stratosphere.

So there is widespread expectation that all eight finalists would run sub-10 races. Many feel that Bolt will need to outdo himself, run under 9.5, if he is to retain his title and stave off the gutsy Blake and the threatening Gay and Gatlin. But those of us who have followed the Olympics for 50-plus years know of the great uncertainties of the blue riband event. A hesitation, a twitch, a glance, a stutter, that's all it takes to mess things up for the greatest athletes or the greatest race.

We can only hope that next Sunday's final would be a better treat than it promises to be. Can Bledman or Thompson medal or win the race? Of course they can: once they get into the final eight, anything could happen. In Beijing, no one expected Thompson to win silver, but he did. I wish them well.

Kelly-Ann Baptiste (10.86) has a good chance of winning a medal in the women's equivalent on Saturday. Although she has been dogged by a minor injury most of the pre-Olympics season, she still holds the fourth fastest time for the year. The favourites are ahead of her: Shelly-Ann Fraser of Jamaica posted a sizzling 9.7 a few weeks ago. Carmelita Jeter (USA, 10.81), Veronica Campbell (Jamaica, 10.82) and Allyson Felix (USA, 10.92) are among the main contenders. But you know what? Kelly-Ann has beaten them all at some point, and that counts, psychologically.

I have run out of writing space, so I shall continue humming "Chariots of Fire" next week. In the meantime, people, wallow in the spirit of the Olympics. Let our hearts soar high, so we cannot smell the stench emanating from the staterooms and the criminals' dens.

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