By Bumpy Walker
Lenworth “Lenny” Hyde was legendary in my youth. I never saw him play football, nor would I have recognise him if we met. Despite this the man was a footballing giant. The fact that he built a long and storied career in sports is counter to the normal strictures that the education system encouraged.
At the recent Olympics I was horrified when Lenny’s son, Jaheel, hit a hurdle and fell. Given my near heart stopping reaction, one can postulate that it must have hit Hyde senior with the emotional force equivalent to a cleanly landed upper cut from Mike Tyson.
That is the glory and the terror of the Olympics. The margin between glorious brilliance and abject failure are measurable only at the quantum level. It is to the credit and honour of Mr Hyde and his team mates they choose to thread this fine needle. So win, lose or draw, I feel humbled to share Jamaican heritage with such titans in human endeavour.
At Tokyo, Jamaica as usual performed well above international expectation, given the relatively small investment and population. Observing Jamaicans watching the races is instructive: we both vocally and “expertly” instruct, interrogate and advise, with the expectation that the sheer emotional investment will influence the outcome.
Allegedly, ancient Spartan wives and mothers told their warrior men to return with their shields or on it. Should any one fail to achieve this key performance indicator, they had to endure a life time of mockery and ostracism. Those ancient Greeks had it easy compared to Jamaica’s athletes. Jamaicans do not merely have exceptional expectations of our men, but equally on our mothers and wives. Had it been a Jamaican “300” at a televised battle of Thermopylae, there would have been a crowd of Jamaicans back at home screaming, swearing, and praying, critiquing as well as apportioning blame on Leonidas for losing! Of course they would have then identified the root cause of having been let down by the current political leadership for lack of support. Yep we would have acknowledged that the Persians had more, but we are better! Then many a woman would loudly attest that, women should have been there as they would have done a better job!
The boxer cliché, never let your mind write a cheque your body cannot pay, is often ignored by our athletes to meet this collective expectation. Self-imposed pressure leads to moments of incredible endeavour, self-sacrifice and risk to future earnings. Tayjay Gayle seriously injured his knee on his first attempt to qualify for the final round in the Long Jump. He then made two further attempts to successfully qualify; then three additional jumps in the finals. His achievement of finishing eleventh holds far, far more significance to Jamaica’s sporting success than mere gold medals. One can only hope that no lasting damage was sustained and his career has not been compromised.
Nations of Entitled Karen’s
Jamaican fans can still acknowledge the skills of other nations’ athletes. Complimentary comments can be seen on social media for the eventual winner of the event in which Jaleel’s had risked it all. Karsten Warholm’s record breaking performance in the 400m hurdles final is recognised as nearly as brilliant as Usain Bolt’s at the Beijing and London Olympics. Nearly, but not quite! (Karsten didn’t entertain the entire Swedish handball team in his room!)
Some other nations seem to have an entitlement to victory. There is an expectation that their athletes and their athletes alone deserve to win. There is a passive aggressive campaign to belittle other nations’ athletics success as due to rule breaking. This is despite many of these accuser nations having a proven history of public – private sponsorship of illegal steroid use. Drawn from these powerhouse nations are those that hold significant administrative power over sports; they nearly always find loopholes to get their own steroid taking athletes to participate. This power is now being brought to bear on Namibian athletes.
The ladies 200 meters title was won by Ms Elaine Thompson- Herah. Namibia, like Jamaica had two athletes in this final, the teenagers Christine Mboma and Beatrice Masilingi. On the eve of this final the Namibian media validated their prowess by comparing themselves to “the power house of sprinting”, Jamaica. Both these African athletes performed, on par with their Jamaicans cousins.
Mbona’s performance was mind blowing. She came off the bend in seventh position, turned on her figurative after burners to overtake both Ms Fraser- Pryce and a Yanki athlete with Jamaican connections, almost catching Ms Thompson-Herah on the line. One hopes Jamaica shows true solidarity to our Namibian cousins and a local club invites both of them to train. The governing body for global athletics had banned these ladies from racing in the events for which they had originally trained. Despite this arbitrary decision, they prevailed with flair. Almost immediately Lord Coe made veiled comments about these ladies’ eligibility. Memories are short. Does he not recall how similar accusations hurt his country‘s athlete Fatima Whitbread?
It is ironic that Jamaica and nearly all of Africa nations who are painted as anti “LGBTQI+” seems to have little or no anti Namibian bias. While athletic association from nations who make these damming accusations, seem hell bent in banning and or altering these teenagers’ natural biochemistry. At my first school sports day in rural Jamaica, naturally, I wanted to run with the beautiful Patsy with whom I shared a desk and I trailed behind at most recesses. We were separated by a third grader who explained in Jamaican: “if yu ha “penis” yu run wid dem wey ha “penis”, if yu ha “vagina” yu run wid dem wey ha “vagina”. This simplistic aphorism is a prism through which I view athletics, ignoring the noise of others as they choose to stymie performances that beat them.
Others will study Jamaica’s athletes, seeking some hidden elixir, a magic bullet to imitate. Would it not be good if Jamaica sent a delegation of our sports scientists to the former colonial overlords’ land, home to Lord Coe, to investigate their recent success at say equestrian sports? These scientists could study their current and former athletes, take muscle samples of both horses and humans from their gluteus maximus to make comparative analytical studies (Included in this survey should be Princess Ann, she was an equestrian at the 1976 Olympics). Given the skill of our scientists, confidence is high they would identify success creating methods. Why? Maybe from the lessons learnt, “Lenny” Hyde’s son Julian, an able equestrian, could do something to enhance his chances to medal at the next Olympics!