Thu | Aug 17, 2017

George Davis | Witnessing greatness

Published:Wednesday | August 31, 2016 | 8:00 AM

As an avid sports fan, I have always been envious of the men and women who've seen first-hand the exploits of the likes of Donald O'Riley Quarrie, Diego Armando Maradona, Pele, Muhammad Ali, Sir Garfield Sobers and Arthur Jones. I'm even envious of those who've witnessed the prime-time version of Lenworth 'Teacher' Hyde and the man so good they nicknamed him 'Skill' Allan Cole.

There was a book I read in the 1980s in primary school that spoke of the exploits of Sobers, Quarrie, Pele and Ali. It was a simple publication packed in carton boxes and sent to schools islandwide, with a picture of Ali and Quarrie on the cover alongside an image of Pele dribbling a ball. I doubt strongly that it remains in publication. But that book, published as it was in black and white, gave me in full colour, reasons to think of those men as my heroes. I first learned about what made those men great in the pages of that free-distribution book. I still remember the passage about how Quarrie used to leave parties or social events early so he could get enough sleep before training early in the morning. I remember the passage about how Pele's first football was a collection of paper and other materials stuffed into a sock. I remember the passage about Ali's tears when his bicycle had been stolen and how he vowed to beat the thief to a pulp in his conversation with the policeman, who fatefully introduced him to boxing and was his first coach.

But the book placed me in a rather curious position as an inheritor of greatness, rather than someone who witnessed greatness unfold. No matter how much I read I could never speak about, or perhaps think about, those storybook heroes in the way that many others who watched on TV or listened live on the radio as those men cemented their status as legends of sport. I could not win an argument with someone about the greatest boxer or sprinter in the world when they could always tell me that they saw Ali fight or that they listened as Quarrrie won Olympic Gold in Montreal in 1976. Against that personal account about experiencing greatness, my 'read' perspective stood no chance. I could not credibly talk about Pele or Skill Cole with someone who saw both men play inside the National Stadium in Kingston in the 1970s. This kind of situation had me believing that I had come into my own as a man at a time when all of the true legends of sport had come and gone with me having to make do with reading about them or watching films of their exploits.

But thanks to Usain Bolt, I have been freed from this torture chamber. Thanks to Bolt, I can say with pride that I have witnessed, live and direct, the exploits of arguably sport's greatest champion. Bolt is more than just the greatest sprinter who ever lived, given that he reached that milestone from the 2012 Olympics in London. But following on his achievements in Rio, Bolt is now arguably the greatest sportsman to ever thrill an audience.

As Jamaicans, we must remember that the United Nations has 193 members. The International Olympic Committee has 93 member states. God could have given Bolt to any one of those countries. Instead, he gave him to us Jamaicans, birthed him in a small district in the hills of Trelawny. Recall that the Olympics date back to 776 BC. Recall, also, that the modern Olympics began in 1896. Never before has any athlete done what Bolt has accomplished. That cements his claim to all-time greatness in any sport.

I've spent a lifetime wishing I could witness that one sporting hero who would deserve placement on a pedestal as others have done for Ali, Pele, Sobers, et al.

And at this stage, early in my third decade I can smile knowing that I have found the deserving soul. I can tell future sports fans that I lived in the time of Usain Bolt. And frankly I don't have to see another athlete for the rest of my life, simply because I have seen Bolt. Selah.

• George Davis is a broadcast executive producer and talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and george.s.davis@hotmail.com.