Don't know if you caught the Jamaica International Invitational (JII) Meet on May 3. A good-size crowd saw good performances from the local and international track and field stars. But what I enjoyed were the interviews. Christian Cantwell of the United States was the man. He literally gave a "hell yeah" when asked if he was pleased with his performance. That's what we love to hear: simple, honest responses from cheery sports stars who don't act like the media is bothering them with questions. Blessing Okagbare got a nice hand too, and Shelly-Ann is everybody's darling. Hansle Parchment gave us a nice local victory as well in the hurdles (St Thomas to the world!).
So, spare a thought for poor old Justin Gatlin. The former Olympic champion reminded me of a singer who has some songs, but who people would rather listen to on the radio than see perform live. The crowd really didn't take to him, even though, in pre-meet interviews, he said he was coming for his 'fans'.
After he won the 100 metres, the stadium sounded like the streets of Kingston on a public holiday - eerily quiet. Jamaicans aren't going to forget how Gatlin gave Asafa a hard time when they were the biggest matchup in athletics. I distinctly remember Gatlin saying of Powell, "if you're hurt, you're hurt" referring to Powell missing a major meet back in 2005. The American felt Powell should acknowledge his injuries instead of making promises about showing up at races, only to pull out. Jamaicans knew full well that Gatlin was right, but if anybody's going to criticise one of us, it should be one of us.
Jamaicans might respect Gatlin, but we sure don't love him. We're more likely to have some love for Tyson Gay, who just runs, not runs his mouth. Remember when Bolt said he wouldn't be surprised if Tyson hated him? Not a word out of Gay in response. But back to the JII meet. During the interview, Gatlin gave a shout-out to the crowd like a struggling DJ saying "Free Kartel" to get a 'forward' at Sting. What was hilarious was he nearly called them the greatest fans in America. He got the first three and a half words out before the brain caught up with his mouth and he ended up saying "the world" instead. That wouldn't have gone down well.
Gatlin needs a mentality like Maurice Green, a guy who I'm pretty sure knew he wasn't well liked, but didn't seem to care one bit. Or be like LeBron James. Not saying he's a show-off, but he must know some people don't like him. Does he make it bother him? Nope, at least, not judging by how he plays.
So, Justin, next time you're in Jamaica, if you're not feeling the love, just smile and move on with life. Or make a Jamaican win the race.
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