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A Bolt of Black Lightning

Usain Bolt went to London with a lofty goal: to become a legend.  His criterion was simple.  “If I defend my Beijing titles successfully, I will consider myself a legend.”

Not only did he win three gold medals, as in Beijing, but, in London lowered the 100m record and, anchoring Jamaica’s 4x100m team, shattered that record as well.

I wager that millions of sports fans, especially those fascinated with speed, plus those enthralled with his style, have already proclaimed him a living legend.

But, in this wide world, only two men appear to have a contrary opinion.  One threw a beer bottle from the stands when the athletes were in the blocks for the 200 meters.  The other is Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

“Rogge competed in yachting  in the 1968, 1972  and 1976 Summer Olympics, and played on the Belgian national rugby union team. In yachting (Finn-class) he won the world championships once and took second place twice, and was crowned Belgian champion sixteen times. He also won the Yachting World Cadet Trophy and took part in the regatta Ton Cup.” – Wikipedia

Four years ago, Rogge criticized Bolt for showboating because, setting a record for the 100m while on cruise control, he paused before hitting the tape, to pound his chest in a self-congratulatory gesture.

Apparently peeved, Rogge claimed that Bolt’s gestures “are not the way we perceive being a champion,” and that “he should show more respect for his competitors.”  When Sports columnist Dan Wetzel pointed out that “the IOC has made billions off athletes such as Bolt for years, yet he has to find someone to pick on,” Rogge told Irish Times’ reporter Ian O’Riordan, that “Maybe there was a little bit of a misunderstanding.  What he does before or after the race, I have no problem with.  I just thought that his gesticulation during the race was maybe a little disrespectful.”

Fast-forward to the London 2012 Olympics.  After Bolt’s magisterial victory in the 200 meters Thursday night, Rogge hit out at the Jamaican’s crowd-pleasing “self-aggrandisement.”

“The career of Usain Bolt has to be judged when the career stops,” he said.  While Bolt was an icon, said Rogge, he was not yet on the same level as Carl Lewis, the American former sprinter and long-jumper who won Olympic titles at each Games from 1984 to 1996.

Speaking before the 200m final, Rogge said: “If you look at the career of Carl Lewis, he had [four] consecutive Games with a medal. Let Usain Bolt be free of injury, let him keep his motivation which I think will be the case … Let him participate in three, four Games, and he can be a legend.”

Why can’t a young, Black man define himself?  Has Rogge inherited King Leopold’s genes? These are different times and Rogge is dealing with different Blacks than Belgian King Leopold II encountered in the Congo in the 1890s.  (See King Leopold II and the Congo http://www.enotes.com/king-leopold-ii-congo-reference/king-leopold-ii-congo)

The white world has so successfully defined Black people that at this very moment, some misguided Jamaicans prefer to lighten their skin to appear more like Rogge than Bolt?

For centuries, the story goes, our lips are too thick, our hair too nappy, our nose too broad, our skin too black, we were lazy and we lacked intelligence.  In the US, the story of a “welfare queen” was reported widely in the media, while bankers stole trillions of dollars, caused an international economic crisis and will walk scot free.  And you can take that to the bank.

When Art Linkletter asked a little Black boy what he wanted to be when he grew up, he said: “White.”  When little Black girls were given a choice between a black doll and a white doll, they opted for the white doll.  In an effort to reverse the brain washing, in the Sixties, you could often hear the refrain in the US: “We’re black and beautiful.”  And a play wasn’t far behind: “To be Young, Gifted and Black.”

Rogge seems bent on cutting the uppity Bolt down to size, but I’m confident that Bolt is too strong to allow Rogge to steal his dream.

Bolt is simply being Bolt.  A playful 24-year-old, an athlete who appears to run to win rather than be pressured to run to break records.  And here comes bossman Rogge, who needs to remake him in his (Rogge’s) image of how a field nigger should act.

Bolt being Bolt, instead of sweating and working up a fierce visage, plays to the crowd, entertains them and they, in return, allow the energy to flow back to him.  Then he gets to his marks and the rest is history.  What’s wrong with that?

We can weigh Rogge’s minority opinion against the rest of the world.  First, a word from Bolt’s sponsors:

Puma initially sponsored Bolt when he was 16.  This is how Puma’s chairman and chief executive Jochen Zeitz sees Bolt: “The way he both engages his fans and is energized by them has helped his popularity escalate to extraordinary levels over the past two years.”

“Puma’s been by my side since the beginning, before anyone knew what I was capable of achieving,” said Bolt. “They saw potential in me and they took a chance, supporting me all the way, especially when things weren’t easy for me due to injuries I suffered in my teens.”

London 2012 chairman, Sebastian Coe, a legend in his own right, a few days ago, expressed no doubts: “Usain Bolt is clearly a legend – no one else has ever won back-to-back 100 meters and 200 meters.”

James Dean made only three films of significance — East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant — and died at age 24.  He said two things which I find striking and relevant:

“Dream as if you’ll live forever.  Live as if you’ll die today.”

“The gratification comes in the doing, not in the results.”

I double-dare Rogge to proclaim that James Dean is not a legend.

Usain Bolt, the living legend, stands tall among Jamaica’s other two international legends: Marcus Mosiah Garvey and Bob Marley.  And alongside a myriad of other legends as well.

Patrick B. Barr, a reporter for Jamaica’s The Daily Gleaner long before Usain Bolt was born, can be reached at barrybar@gmail.com

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