Fri | Apr 20, 2018

Annie Paul | ‘What number is toe?’

Published:Wednesday | August 17, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Annie Paul
Jamaica's Usain Bolt greets spectators after winning the men's 100m final at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Sunday.

The Olympics rolls around every four years reminding us what 'world-class' really means. My seminal Olympian moment was in 1976, at Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi, watching the Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci achieve the impossible with her lean, lithe body. In those days, the Olympics was a Cold War battleground, with athletes from communist countries snatching medals from the capitalist West and charming the world with their feats.

Nadia Comaneci scored 10 out of 10 in her uneven bars routine, which no gymnast had ever achieved before. I watched in awe as she spun and tumbled, her taut body achieving perfection each time she landed. How did she do it?

I would think the same thing years later watching East German figure skater Katarina Witt execute her breathtaking leaps and pirouettes, landing flawlessly on the treacherous ice of the skating rink each time with a broad smile on her face.

It gradually dawned on me that the way they were able to go out and perform flawless routines under the overwhelming pressure of a global audience, not to mention the political demand of socialist domination, was that they had mastered their sports completely. Repeating their moves day in and day out, every season, every year, had given them the confidence to perform their leaps and bounds knowing they would land on their feet when crunch time came.

It was an approach that could be applied to anything and everything, I realised - writing, working, sewing, cooking, orating - no matter what the task at hand, practice and adhering to the highest standards could and would make perfect.

Few of us have the chance to achieve Olympic standards, but I felt I had one when I was given the opportunity just before the 2012 Olympics to write a feature on Usain Bolt for Newsweek International. It was good enough that the editor returned in the middle of the Olympics after Bolt started dominating the runnings to ask if I could quickly do a short essay on how Jamaicans felt about Usain's stellar performance. By the time I saw that email, I had exactly an hour and 10 minutes to write it, but I delivered.

For the opportunity to experience the last three Olympics in this country of indomitable runners, I will always be grateful. In preparation for my article on Bolt, I attended Boys and Girls' Champs for the first time and was blown away by the excellence of the event, the packed stadium full of passionate adults and children rooting for their school teams, and the outstanding future stars manifesting their talents on the track.

The exhilaration of attending a world-class event simply cannot be beaten, and Jamaica's Champs and the national trials are two home-grown ones that are simply inspiring in their superb staging of the human urge to compete. With all this, it's an understatement to say that Jamaicans take the Olympics seriously. As the Rio Olympics started to loom larger and larger on the horizon, a buzz of excitement began rippling through social media.




"I just wanna announce that Jamaica is not keeping till the end of the Olympics. Track & Field start," posted Nadeen Althia Spence on Facebook. "Jamaicans, please ignore the above notice," shot back Tony Lewis. "The OPM has advised that Jamaica will be keeping over the next few days. Only the venues have changed. Be advised that on Saturday, August 12 and Sunday, August 13, Jamaica will be keeping in Half Tree Square, and Sovereign Centre, Liguanea. Jamaica will also be keeping virtually, on Facebook. Watch this page for details."

The jokes and good humour abound. A friend complained that the ESPN Caribbean feed reminded her of Soviet TV with its poor sound and fuzzy image. "Ya it reminds me of Syrian TV too. has an old school communist feel to it lol," added another friend. After Usain Bolt's winning 100m dash when TVJ wheeled out the Super Lotto numbers as usual, it provoked journalist @emilymshields to quip, "Wait then Supreme Ventures nuh see say we win the lottery areddi."

As the women's 100m final approached, the nation's nerves were on edge, especially after it became clear that Jamaica's sweetheart, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, had an injured toe. "Me a head up a UWI cause an #ER nearby is gonna be necessary fi this 100m!!!" tweeted @annmarievazja.

"Jesas, tek di toe & gi wi di gold. I lef it to you Jesas," prayed @emilymshields.

A few tweets later, wait, "What number is toe?" Shields asked irreverently, while @Arquipimp boasted, "An injured Shelly came 3rd, let that sink in." The disappointment at Shelly-Ann's not getting gold was somewhat soothed by Elaine Thompson's spectacular win.

More next week, by when we'll know if Jamaican dominance continues at this Olympic meet. Till then!

- Annie Paul is a writer and critic based at the University of the West Indies and author of the blog, Active Voice ( Email feedback to or tweet @anniepaul.