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Michael Abrahams: We can learn a lot from our athletes

Published:Sunday | August 30, 2015 | 11:04 PMMichael Abrahams

Friday, August 28, 2015, was shaping up to be an exciting day for Jamaican sports fans. We fielded athletes in the finals of three events at the World Athletics Championships: the women’s 200 metres, and the women’s and men’s sprint hurdles. 

The women’s 200 metres was the most eagerly anticipated race for Jamaicans. Our new sprint queen, Elaine Thompson, looked great in her heat and semi-final, and veterans Veronica Campbell-Brown and Sherone Simpson, visitors to the podium at major championships before, also joined her in the starting line-up. 

Hansle Parchment, bronze medallist at the London Olympics in 2012, and Jamaican national champion and world number two Omar McLeod, whose personal best of 12.97 seconds is 15th on the world all-time list, were in the men’s 110 metres hurdles final. The women’s 100 metres hurdles final featured sisters Danielle and Shermaine Williams, the first time since the championships began in 1983 that two siblings had competed together in a final.

The women’s sprint hurdles final was the only one of the abovementioned finals that did not feature a Jamaican who had medalled at the Olympics or World Championships, but, ironically, was the only one to furnish us with gold, as Danielle ran a personal best of 12.57 seconds to prevail over Germany’s Cindy Roleder and Alina Talay of Belarus, who won silver and bronze, respectively. 

The outcome, not surprisingly, was enthusiastically welcomed and celebrated by Jamaicans. I myself behaved like a bona fide leggo beast skettel, making a whole heap of noise, which I am sure was heard from Morant Bay to Negril Point. The race, although being a source of excitement and cause for much discussion, was unfortunately rivalled by a sideshow which followed.

A video appeared showing Roleder being approached by Shermaine, who extended her right hand to congratulate her. But Roleder, in a state of obvious excitement, ran past Williams, hitting away her hand, and subsequently embraced her friend Talay. The video was not a good look, to say the least. I felt queasy watching it. 

I can understand not noticing someone in the heat of the moment, as I have been guilty of that on several occasions, and meant no disrespect. The hitting away of the hand, however, rubbed me and many of my fellow Jamaicans the wrong way, leading many to take to social media to vent. And vent they did. 

Accusations of racism abounded, as well as the usual Jamaican ‘tracing’, utilizing such words as ‘dutty’ and ‘gyal’, the mentioning of various ‘textiles’ and ‘fabrics’, along with references to female canines and the oral vacuuming of maternal figures.

Jamaicans are very protective of their track and field athletes, and rightly so, but the venom and vitriol spewed and the ‘classing’ and ‘styling’ of the Roleder in social media was excessive and showed us at our worst. 

Accusing her of bad manners is one thing, but to accuse her of being a racist may be a bit unfair. It is possible, for example, that if Williams were a white American athlete, she may have suffered the same fate. Also, Carl Lewis is black, but his attitude toward Usain Bolt has been anything but warm and fuzzy. Had he been a white man, saying the dismissive things that he has said about Bolt and his remarkable achievements, he would have likely been labelled a racist as well.

Roleder later apologised on her Facebook page, referring to the incident as a misunderstanding, and also issued a verbal apology in which she said the word “sorry” five times in 15 seconds, which is probably a world record for apologies among athletes. 

Shermaine Williams could have capitalised on the wave of anger directed at Roleder, but being the class act that she is, posted the audio recording of Roleder’s apology on her Facebook page, along with the following statement:

“We were both overwhelmed with excitement. Thank you for taking the time out to apologize. Congrats on the medal. A BIG THANK YOU to my Jamaican family, good to know you have my back 100%. I truly appreciate your support. Proud to be a part of this wonderful family! Let bygones be bygones. See you on the track next season Cindy Roleder!”

The exploits of our athletes at the World Championships filled me with pride, but the attitude of this young lady is one to emulate. By taking the high road, not engaging in 'cass-cass', being respectful, showing humility and not playing the victim card, Shermaine has set an excellent example for us, especially our youth. 

Other athletes, especially Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, have shown what one can achieve with hard work, discipline, determination, focused minds and the acceptance of nothing short of excellence, while our victorious relay teams have demonstrated the value of effective teamwork.  If only more of those who congregate inside Gordon House would set examples such as these, our country would be in a much better position.

Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, comedian and poet. Email feedback and, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.