Follow the Trace: Showboating works
When exciting young Calabar High School quarter-miler Christopher Taylor nonchalantly strolled past the St Jago High anchor runner in the Class Two 4x200m final at the recent Gibson McCook Relays and looked to scoff at and taunt his opponent as he crossed the finish line, it rekindled the age-old debate about the propensity of young athletes, especially young male athletes, to showboat.
Pointing in the direction of their supporters, raising of the hands and the glancing over the shoulders two or three metres before reaching the finish line have been regular occurrences at meets such as the Gibson McCook Relays, Boys and Girls' Championships, and even in international competition.
The most infamous occurrence came courtesy of Jevaughn Minzie at the Carifta Games in Montego Bay in 2011, when Minzie, the favourite, for the Under-17 200m title, got his antics all wrong in the final by turning around to taunt and gesticulate towards his Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) opponent from some 50m out, only to see the young sprinter from T&T blow past him down the straight as Minzie missed his stride, panicked and embarrassingly lost the race.
Apart from when they are stupid and excessive about it, like Minzie was, I am a big supporter of young athletes - whether boys or girls - creatively expressing themselves in victory or in anticipation of victory. It adds to the entertainment value of the performances.
After all, these athletes are not robots; they are youngsters who should be free to display their emotions.
What better testament to the benefits of this practice than the value added to the big man himself, Usain Bolt, by the uniqueness of his pre- and post-race celebrations, which began as far back as the 2002 World Junior Championships at the National Stadium with that famous military salute to the rapturous home crowd after the then 15-year-old won the 200m gold.
Bolt then graduated to the emphatic beating of the chest after dominating all the world had to offer in the 100m final at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The rest, they say, is history; the now world-famous 'To di World' sign along with his spontaneous dances and impromptu interaction with the trackside fans becoming expected antics which have helped to endear Bolt to the wider world.
Some track and field purists, of course, argue that showboating is inappropriate, rude, unnecessary and disrespectful to the opponents. I totally disagree. The sport of track and field needs to come to the party and further embrace the flair and colour that through Bolt, has proven to help in boosting the appeal of the sport globally.
While the pure track and field junkies need no 'sideshow' to enhance their appreciation of the sport, ask them to spare a thought for the neophytes, novices and neutrals who could potentially be attracted to the sport by the unscripted, unorthodox and spontaneous expressiveness by the young athletes.
Emerging athletes, especially those who get to the Boys and Girls' Champs elite level, have absolutely earned the right to celebrate in style, as long as it is within the rules and does not significantly compromise their performances. By all means, beat that chest, say a few words to that vanquished opponent, point to the supporters or even signal to the fans of your beaten rivals, it's all in good fun.
Confidence in sports
I refuse to attach a negative connotation to the practice of showboating. Why see it as hype and not an expression of confidence, which is such a vital component in the DNA of champions.
I reject the notion that showboating is an act of arrogance. It is more an index of self-belief. The critics of showboating need to look deeper into this issue, wrestle themselves out of that mental cylinder, and ponder the contradiction of watching the greatest track athlete of all time, Usain Bolt, a Jamaican who trod the same path as these young athletes, a man who along with his dominance on the track has become the foremost exponent of pre-race and post-race showboating, a practice that has significantly contributed to his ascendancy to global superstardom.
How does one reconcile telling a young sprinter growing up in Jamaica today that showboating is wrong, when his idol, Bolt, continues to attract worldwide acclaim and boost his earning by millions of US dollars, ostensibly as a result of his deliberate showboating?
Please purists, let boys be boys.