Below are excerpts from forthcoming publication: 'The Making of a Sprinting Superpower - Jamaica on the Track', by Arnold Bertram
IT IS a truism that in every field of endeavour it is easier to climb to the top than to remain at the top. To his credit, Usain Bolt has demonstrated both the capacity to keep his eyes on the prize, and to recover from setbacks that would have demoralised lesser mortals.
After his phenomenal success in the 2002 World Youth Championships, he experienced the agony of defeat and rejection in the 2004 Olympic Games as well as the 2005 World Athletic Championships, and was forced to rely on his own inner strength to 'wheel and come again'.
It was only then that he experienced the ecstasy of Beijing, where his performance unleashed an unprecedented outpouring of national pride.
If Bob Marley's impact is social and political, Bolt is at the level of the individual in a world where the artiste is only as good as his last work.
Where Marley calls on the disadvantaged of the world to 'get up, stand up for your rights', Bolt now extends our conception of human capacity and challenges youth the world over to realise the greatness in themselves. Specifically to Jamaican youth, he brings a message of motivation and provides an example which invites emulation.
His example provides proof that the modern world offers unlimited opportunity to transform talent and ability through the sustained pursuit of excellence into phenomenal success.
Eminence engenders expectations, and in Bolt's case there is no shortage of volunteers to prescribe the moral boundaries of his social conduct.
Whether or not he lives up to other people's expectations, no one can deny that in the four years between Beijing and London, Bolt has learnt the complexities of investment and entrepreneurship, carried out his duties as Jamaica's ambassador with the dignity of an experienced diplomat, maintained his position at the top of the sprinting world and remained affable in a world that no longer affords him a moment of privacy for as long as he's awake.
The spectacular growth of the global sports industry inevitably transforms the most successful sportsmen and women into transnational professionals, whose primary and often only objective is to maximise their earnings within the global financial market.
West Indian cricketers operating within the tenuous fabric of West Indian nationalism were particularly vulnerable, and the ease with which they discarded all notions of social and national responsibility demoralised the West Indian community.
In contrast, Bolt and Jamaica's other Olympic superstars continue to enthusiastically identify with the nation state and accept some measure of social responsibility as a part of their success.
To a man, they have sought to use their prestige as well as their material resources to keep hope alive within their communities. The vitality of 'brand Jamaica' and the emotional support of the Jamaican public constitute a vital part of what Bolt and the other Jamaican athletic superstars carry into competition.
Whereas we have enjoyed 50 years of Marley's artistry, Bolt is still very much a work in progress, and we can only marvel at what this young man has accomplished before his 26th birthday.
One final observation of Bolt and Marley is the extent to which both are perfectionists. One of Marley's closest friends and collaborators, Alan 'Skill' Cole, once related to me an experience he had with Bob during the recording of his mega hit No Woman no Cry.
At 8 o'clock the evening, Cole thought the recording finished, and assumed that they could now leave the studio to attend a party. Bob was, however, not satisfied. Three hours later Bob was still perfecting the recording.
Cole left in frustration, and when he passed by the studio after the party, Marley was still there working. Like every supreme artiste, he reflected "the genuine artistic instinct, fidelity to an inner ideal".
While Bolt's phenomenal speed is as much a 'gift' as the product of practice, still his striving for perfection is reflected in the thousands of hours he invested to become the first athlete over six feet three inches tall to develop a sprinting technique and start which, up until then, was not conceived as possible for an athlete of that height.
In their ascent to the top, both Bolt and Marley have remained profoundly human and endearing, with a generosity of spirit that is always becoming in great men.
Arnold Bertram is a historian who served in both Houses of Parliament and held a range of portfolios as a cabinet minister. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.