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Brian-Paul Welsh | The time of Bolt

Published:Sunday | June 11, 2017 | 12:00 AM

There hasn't been much about life in Jamaica for which members of my generation can boast. We were conceived in tumult: the financial-sector meltdown and economic stagnation.

Most of us are too young to have a true sense of Bob Marley's impact while he trod this earth, and involvement with all the other heroes belonged to those who came before. We had only heard of a time when Jamaican soil produced greatness on a global scale, but it was foreign to our perception.

We never knew of a time when gods moved among us, when superheroes made regular appearances, or that legends could actualise right before our eyes. The best of the best were found on television screens in images beaming from faraway places and sometimes the distant past, and many like myself longed for moving figures we could reach out and touch.

Icons such as these might appear just once in a lifetime, but their influence can span for several, and since the passing of Marley and the spawning of his later iterations, many had pondered whether that unconquerable spirit would ever again manifest here in the flesh.




Though there are many champions among us, other great ones that we shall one day salute, none have enraptured our imaginations and excited the world quite like Usain Bolt. Perhaps none ever will. Witnessing his monumental feats first-hand has inspired every barefooted child of the past 20 years to believe they, too, can achieve amazing things in spite of an unfavourable environment.

The Usain Bolt story has demonstrated to all of us the possibility of achieving what might seem unlikely through discipline, personal sacrifice, teamwork, collective vision, and, of course, fun! In many ways, the fruition of his talent is representative of the Jamaican dream that our leaders have grown far better at advertising than actually achieving: the promise that if one does all the right things, there is a great future in store.

As we shared in his massive successes and winced at his occasional failures, we seldom recognised how fortunate we were to be spectators in the development of the world's greatest right at our feet.

We are likewise challenged to reconcile our shortcomings as a community with his stellar achievements, the way his natural talent was honed to exceptional heights by some of this country's finest, and how Jamaica, as the wellspring of these endowments, has been largely unable to fulfil that promise for the majority of its people.




While sentimentally observing the culmination of a spectacular career, it would be remiss to not contextualise those spectacular performances with the other national records we would rather not highlight, such as the galloping crime rate and the plummeting dollar.

As social and economic conditions deteriorated, Bolt's development accelerated, thrusting him and this nation into global news for sprinting at a time when we were also gaining notoriety for scamming. On a night when hearts were aflutter in anticipation of one final 100-metre race inside the National Stadium, there were many households in mourning over tragic losses to their families from that week's murder madness. While dignitaries gathered inside the royal box to snap shots with the greatest of all time, their minions made mischief in communities just beyond the bright lights.

In the midst of excruciating circumstances and with very little around us to provide hope, we are fortunate to have lived in this time and to have one of us brilliantly defy the odds and rise into the fullness of himself.

- Brian-Paul Welsh is a writer and public affairs commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and brianpaul.welsh@gmail.com, or tweet @islandycynic.