Orville Higgins | Give the man his statue!
The discussion as to whether Asafa Powell deserves a statue has been making the rounds for much of the last two weeks. Last year, it was announced that some statues will be erected in the honour of several Jamaican athletes "in honour of their outstanding contribution to the development of Jamaican track and field".
Why the issue has made its way back on recent sports programmes and all over social media escapes me, but a lot of what I have listened and read lacks the kind of objectivity and intellectual acumen that I wish would be more commo place on local sports programmes.
There can be absolutely no doubt that Asafa's contribution to the development of track and field in Jamaica has been immense. There are not too many sportsmen or women who we have produced that have scaled the heights Asafa has, and therefore, he is just as deserving of a statue as most sportsmen that performed for Jamaica. To deny that is to either be completely naive or wilfully perverse.
The raw facts tell you that Asafa had the world record twice for the 100 metres. He is the sprinter in history with the most sub-10 clockings, which means he has performed at a high quality for more races than anybody who has ever lived. In 2008, he became the first man to run 15 sub-10 times in one year. He gave Jamaican sprinters a belief that transferred to all after him. When you add that he has also played his part in several World and Olympic 4x100 Gold medal wins, including a world record, then it's simply foolhardy to argue against the fact that he has been a standout.
Not enough credit
Asafa has frustrated all of us by his failure to truly dominate the individual 100 metres at the global championships. At the World and Olympic levels, he has not done as well as he should have done. We can't deny that. The mistake that too many of us make though is to allow those disappointments of what he didn't do to not allow us to appreciate what he actually did. We use the fact that he didn't win individual events at these major global games against him without giving him enough credit for the things he accomplished.
We put an Olympic and a World championship title on a higher plane than a world record. That is wrong. A world record must be seen as a higher athletic achievement than winning an Olympic gold. An Olympic gold means you are the best athlete of your time. In fact, it doesn't even necessarily mean that. Strictly speaking, it means you were the best in the race, since injury or bad form can mean that it is not the eight best athletes who line up at the starting line. While an Olympic gold means you are the best on that day, a world record means you are the best of all time! Asafa then has shown, at different times, that he is the very best there ever was.
We do not give him the credit for these world records as we do for Olympic or World Championship gold purely because of the emotional factor. For the Olympics, we are all glued to the TV. The sense of excitement and passion and tension reaches fever pitch. We go teary-eyed when the anthem plays for the whole world to hear. Performance in that arena therefore is magnified in our minds. That's the emotional human side and we can't escape that. The raw truth though is that Asafa's world records were greater track and field performances than most we have seen in Jamaica's long history. We don't celebrate world records like Olympic gold simply because as humans we get swept up in the emotions of the games. I understand that.
As a student of not only sports, but human behaviour, I am fully cognisant of the psychological issues at play why we put the Olympics so highly. We go off tangent badly though when we do not recognise that simply because your performance gives us goose bumps on the Olympic stage, it doesn't mean it is a better performance than one on the Diamond League somewhere. More memorable at the Olympics? Yes. More celebrated? Sure. Better? Not necessarily.
Next to Bolt, Asafa has been arguably our greatest athlete in the last two decades. He may not have been able to reproduce his form on the days when we would want him to, but when at his best he was better than the world has ever seen. How many other Jamaican athletes in our generation can the same thing be said?
So give the man his statue. We have given statues to many who didn't reach the same dazzling heights.
- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.