Thu | Sep 19, 2019

Tanya Lee | Finding the next Usain Bolt

Published:Friday | January 12, 2018 | 12:57 AM

The exit of Usain Bolt from track and field has left a gaping hole in the sport. With Bolt abdicating the throne, the next likely candidate is the current World Champion-Justin Gatlin.

But, while Gatlin’s talent and championship mettle is undeniable, his sketchy ‘track record’ completely omits him from royal ascendancy.

Bolt was, by sheer numbers, more massive than the sport of track and field itself and brought droves of new, casual fans to the sport. But these casual fans may not stick around in 2018 and beyond.

We’ve seen this before. In the 2011 World Championships, when he false-started in the 100m final, some spectators immediately left the stands in Daegu, South Korea, as they came specifically to see the magic that was Bolt. The celebration for compatriot Yohan Blake who won on that occasion was thus paltry and bittersweet.

We’ve also seen this in basketball. When Michael Jordan left the NBA, TV ratings fell immediately. While six of LeBron James’ finals have hit close to the Jordan era in the US TV market, Michael Jordan’s 1998 finals versus the Utah Jazz remains the most watched series in NBA finals history, with Game 6 averaging the highest audience ever in the sport. Contrastingly, the glitzy flair of His Airness was replaced by the placid fundamentals of Tim Duncan, who was responsible for the two least watched NBA finals in recent NBA history (2003 and 2007).

Boxing also suffered a similar fate when the absence of formidable heavyweights and fascinating figures such as ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson caused a shift in interest to lower weight classes that did not generate as much interest.


All the above begs the question, what makes some sporting figures so appealing to fans? Is it just exceptional talent that pulls fans to watch? Why did an entire globe fall in love with Usain Bolt? Who from our local soil, if anyone, could possibly capture the globe’s hearts again?

A few years ago, I created a promotional plan around the Digicel Grand Prix athletics championships and put an ad together of Usain Bolt and then Calabar sensation Michael O’Hara’s faces merged into one. I wanted to suggest, through the image, that Michael O’Hara would be Jamaica’s heir to the Bolt throne. Bolt’s manager was not fond of the concept. He felt that the pressure it would add to a young Michael O’Hara was not to be encouraged. He had an excellent point.

Truth is, there is now immense pressure for every Jamaican athlete that will take to the track after Bolt. Fans will be searching for that charm, that charisma, that electrifying finish and that over-the-top spectator engagement Bolt was known for. Will any other Jamaican step into his massive spikes?

The next Jamaican superstar will need to be supremely talented, consummately professional, affable and unique. He/she must generate an undeniable chemistry with the media and everyone they meet across the world. He/she will need to awe fans with their physicality, mental toughness, and youthful enthusiasm. He/she must blaze a trail and set an impeccable record of achievements that will give mere mortals collective hope for a brighter tomorrow. I call these qualities ‘the intangibles’ only superstars possess.

These immeasurable attributes have been best displayed by a Bolt, or, say, a Neymar who had jerseys flying off the rack in record numbers when he made a massive move to Paris Saint-Germain earlier this season.

Which Jamaican could possibly be the next Usain Bolt? Let’s set our sights on the most prominent sport on the planet, as the next Bolt for brand Jamaica may not be on the track.

The next Usain Bolt may be on the football pitch. It may be Leon Bailey.

As a marketer, I see the makings of a suave and striking winger who could create massive appeal and capture global hearts. He fits much of the description mentioned before. Now, whether we ever put the right plan in place to make this dream a reality for Jamaica’s football is still left to be seen.

- Tanya Lee is a Caribbean Sports Marketer, Author & Publicist. Follow her @tanyattlee on Instagram.