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On your marks, get set, go?
published: Sunday | August 3, 2008

Edward Seaga

This is the long-awaited month for the holding of the Olympics Games, being held in the People's Republic of China. Beijing, China's capital city, is getting ready to put on the mother of all Olympic shows. The opening show can be expected to showcase Chinese creative talents par excellence.

China needs the Olympics to embellish its image as a country which is catapulting itself into the 'First World'. Economically, it is already a prominent First World power, but the popular image of China lags in portraying its capabilities to carry out world-class programmes. The Olympic Games are among the world's greatest exhibition of talent spread over several sites within one country. The complexities of co-coordinating this spread while ensuring faultless people movement at each site will be an ultimate challenge. The Chinese people know this and they will do everything for China to be acclaimed as a country, which has arrived in the modern world by passing the acid test of organising the Olympic Games. While every country is fighting for supremacy in the Games, the Chinese people will also be working to create another brand name for China as a country of superb organisational skills.

Most important olympics

For Jamaica, this is a most important Olympics, perhaps the most important because the array of world-class Jamaican talent is greater than ever before. We are approaching a date on which history could be written by this small country in a manner which would set us apart from other countries, large and small, for generations to come.

The possibility of an awesome performance rests with a world- class team, headed by Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell, who have beaten every other athlete this year in the 100 and 200 metres. Not to be outdone Kerron Stewart led four Jamaican girls in the recent trials at the National Stadium in a superb performance, each covering the 100 metres in under 11 seconds.

Unbelievable possibility

Bolt ... exciting prospects for 100m and 200m.

Without counting the performances of the other athletes on the team, what this means is an unbelievable possibility that in mid-August we could see in the:

Men's 100 metres - Bolt and Powell winning gold and silver medals.

Men's 200 metres - Bolt winning gold.

Women's 100 metres - Kerron Stewart taking the gold and Jamaica at least one other medal

Women's 200 metres - Veronica Campbell leading the way to gold in her speciality and one other Jamaican medalling.

This sounds improbable. Everything is, until it happens. But the balance of probability rests with this dream team. Even if the results are not as grand, there is likely to be enough gold and silver for the world to acclaim. After all no country, save the United States, has ever accomplished what Jamaica has the possibility to do with the world's fastest men and, possibly, women.

But if this happens, are we going to be taken by surprise and then scramble around to programme the publicity to catch up with the event, or are we going to alert the media ahead of time to the real story of which winning medals is only a part? The bigger story is that the size of the country is inverse to the size of the achievement? How come? Track back to the island of Jamaica which already has a history of winning medals in sprints. We would no longer be regarded as occasional winners but as a new world power in the sprints.

The Tourist Board should be lining up billboard sites at the airports; possible interviews on prime time shows in the right markets should be pre-arranged. Fail to do these things and we will miss the boat in creating a new brand as a First-World country in track and field athletics.

I can speak to this from a personal point of view. The Jamaican bobsled team had always been one of my favourite teams because it was an example of Jamaican determination and will.

Jamaica is a country which has never experienced snow beyond a smattering of flakes rumoured to have been seen on one or two of the highest mountain tops. For Jamaica to become involved in this truly 'foreign' sport was astonishing, but for a Jamaican bobsled team to go to the Winter Olympics was unbelievable.

Big things expected

After one or two Olympics, the Jamaicans, a four-man team led by Dudley Stokes Jr, reached a stage of proficiency that big things were expected to happen at the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Denmark in the 1990s.

I became closer to the team because I supported their efforts by raising funds to assist them to go to the Games. I kept in touch through their manager. When the big day came, the Jamaican team was doing good times in its runs. The American team was not. The American announcer on TV said before the final Jamaican run: "If Jamaica beats the United States it will be the ultimate indignity". Jamaica ranked 13th and the United States 14th, but it was not the "ultimate indignity". The boys worked hard to achieve the success they reaped and that should not be considered a stroke of good luck.

The next morning, through a friendly connection in my office with a senior person on the Good Morning America show, I received a call asking me to arrange for the team to come to New York to be interviewed on the show, one of the top-rated morning programmes on United States television. I called the team manager to give him the exciting news. Appearance on this programme could have opened all kinds of possibilities for them, including future sponsorships. The manager asked for a little time, then called back. "The boys prefer to stay in Denmark and do some sight-seeing," was the unbelievable reply.

This was a golden opportunity lost by the team, for the team, and for Jamaica, because they did not understand the importance of creating an international brand.

The Reggae Boyz football team which went to the World Cup in France in 1998 understood this. The team was named to capitalise on the strength of the well-recognised international brand name - reggae. Being the first team for the Caribbean to qualify gave the brand a further lift. Exposure in Paris added lustre.

As the Olympic Games begin in China, the message should be to not only achieve great glory for self, team and country, but also to create a new brand product, the Jamaican Dream Team.

Edward Seaga is a former prime minister. He is now a Distinguished Fellow at the UWI. Email: or

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