Ian Boyne | Master class lessons in Rio
"With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be. We rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic."
- philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche
It has been more than Boltmania. Even in an age of hyperbole, this has truly been a historic Olympics for Jamaica. The first human being in history to achieve three successive Olympic gold medals in the 100m final is a Jamaican, Superman Usain Bolt. That same man who, at this Olympics, achieved what has been called the 'triple triple' crown - three consecutive 100m gold, three consecutive 200m gold, and three consecutive 4x400m gold in an Olympic final.
Jamaica, also for the first time, won both the 100m and 200m gold for women, new sprint queen Elaine Thompson pulling that off for us. We won for the first time, too, the 110m hurdles. There were other noteworthy Jamaican showings at this Olympics, giving us ample bragging rights and occasion for swelling pride. We revel in the success of our athletes and bask in their reflected glory. We are masters of extolling the product - the end result - but we don't particularly care for the process. The existentialist philosopher, Nietzsche, was right: We cherish the dazzling achievements of a Usain Bolt or an Elaine Thompson. It's magical for us. But we don't think of what got them there.
Forbes magazine lists Bolt as No. 32 on its annual list of the top 100 highest-paid athletes, with earnings of US$32.5 million between June 2015 and June 2016; his earnings are more than Serena Williams. But that will be small stuff compared to what he is projected to earn for his expected final year in track and field, says the article 'Usain Bolt will cash a massive paycheck in 2016', which appeared on Yahoo News last Thursday.
We might secretly envy Bolt's earning power, but I am sure we don't envy the rigour of his training. We need to draw some important lessons from Rio. We need to begin to understand what this thing called success or excellence looks like when it is being developed. Before the end product. Before the glitz and the glamour. It's intense work. It's some drudgery. It's mundanity. One of the things Bolt has emphasised is that he hates training.We all know him as a party animal.
What is noteworthy about Bolt is that though he strikes us as so pleasure-obsessed, he disciplines himself to train and to do the necessary work to remain a global star. How do you think he manages to stay on top? Simply through innate ability? Don't be silly. This impression that Bolt is at every dancehall session and every club every night of the week is mythology. Bolt has to pry himself out of bed (or be taken out) to get on the track to do the necessary work to be able to achieve those superlative-defying performances.
If those who aspire to succeed without scamming, bandooloo, political connections and gunmanship could understand that to achieve something worthwhile, one has to go beyond feelings and natural inclinations, that would be good. Bolt and other successful athletes must find the platforms to talk frankly and passionately to our young people - indeed, all of us - about what is involved in building a successful life. Of the sacrifices involved. Bolt hates training. I get the feeling that Yohan Blake loves training. Yohan is more intrinsically drawn to the track. But Bolt achieves more not simply by talent, but by discipline. It takes more discipline for Bolt to train. Hence his success is all the more admirable.
Can you imagine if, as a people, we could learn that lesson about discipline? That we could work toward our goals, our dreams in that way; not giving in to every temptation to goof off, to take it easy, instead of working diligently?
We play too much when we should be working or studying. We don't like doing the hard stuff. No wonder our CXC passes are so low in maths and other challenging areas. Hard does not mean impossible. Difficult does not mean unachievable. We depend on 'vibes' too much. We depend on how we feel to get things done. We have to learn to get things done when we don't feel like doing them.
We despise the pain of discipline. Hence we skip our chance for glory. And settle to bask in Bolt's, Thompson's, McLeod's and Fraser-Pryce's. Talent is overrated. All the scientific studies show that it takes more than talent to succeed. In her 2016 book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, professor of psychology, Angela Duckworth, says, "The most dazzling human achievements are, in fact, the aggregate of countless individual elements, each of which is in a sense ordinary."
She quotes Dan Chambliss, who did a study of competitive swimmers some years ago titled The Mundanity of Excellence. Dan Chambliss observed: "Superlative performance is really a confluence of dozens of small skills or activities, each one learned or stumbled upon which have been carefully drilled into habit and then fitted together in synthesised whole. There is nothing extraordinary or superhuman in any one of those actions; only the fact that they are consistently done and correctly and altogether produce excellence."
Study after study has shown how many extraordinarily talented people fall apart just because they don't have discipline, perseverance - grit. If you want a lesson in grit and determination, that stellar lesson was provided by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce at this Olympics. Only those close to her will know the depth of her statement that the bronze medal secured there was her most important medal - more important than her previous gold medals.
The country has, happily, shown enormous goodwill towards her recent with her injury and it has been heartwarming to me to see the love and deep positive emotions expressed towards her. She has truly been one of our most loved athletes - of all time. Deservedly so. The Rev Devon Dick was spot on in his column on Thursday, 'The great Shelly-Ann': "After winning the semi-final and destroying the confidence of 24-year-old Dutch sprinter Dafne Schippers, she grimaced in pain. To come back an hour and a half later to do her season's best and claim a bronze showed determination, poise and greatness."
Dick notes, "Shelly-Ann persevered through pain, suffering and sacrifice."
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is an indescribable example of grit. People don't know how bad an injury she really had and of her phenomenal capacity to endure pain to achieve her goals. That she made it through the Jamaican trials is itself spectacular. How many of us can continue to pursue our dreams despite excruciating pain, setbacks, frustrations, disappointments? How many can endure hardships, obstacles and anguish while staying focused? We bask in these athletes' glory, but are we willing to learn from them?
Can we see where Elaine Thompson is coming from on the socio-economic ladder? Can we identify with early setbacks and her rugged determination to succeed against the odds? It is certainly noteworthy that the people who have brought Jamaica the most glory is not its political, business, professional or intellectual elite, but its grass-roots people - its musicians like Bob Marley and sports stars like Bolt and Shelly-Ann.
TURNING ASHES INTO GOLD
Our athletes can teach us something about turning ashes to gold. There is an interesting article in the July-August edition of Scientific American Mind magazine titled 'The Olympic Edge: What Sets Winners Apart'. It points to the importance of personality traits like confidence, optimism and mental toughness. Success magazine (September 2016 edition) has a fascinating article on the struggles of Gabby Douglas, the first African-American gymnast to win an individual Olympic gold medal. Listen to the stories of our successful athletes in Rio and they all tell of the overcoming of adversity.
These athletes also have structure. They have people to whom they are accountable. People who they respect, people who can guide them. Their coaches deserve every honour. I support the OJ being given to Stephen Francis. He can't get it for a pleasing personality or even for courtesy, but he deserves it for so consistently producing winners. And I support Rev Dick's call for Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce to be given the OJ, too. She is Elaine's role model and inspiration. Her performance in Rio was simply golden.
Let's continue to treasure our athletes. But, more important, let's treasure the lessons from them.
- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with Jamaica Information Service.