Tuesday, 19 August 2008

“I Feel Like Mi Heart Gwine Burs’": Dominant Jamaican Athletes in Beijing!

I know this entry is late, but...!

On occasions like the absolutely amazing display of Jamaica’s phenomenal athletic prowess in Beijing, China on Saturday, August 16 and Sunday, August 17, 2008, I am reminded of that celebrated Jamaican poet Dr. the Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverly’s poem – Colonisation in Reverse. Among others, the popular Miss Lou poem extols the virtues of a colonial subject in classic revisionist mode, renegotiating the terms of the enervating relationship established between super power and satellite state.

Miss Lou’s poem underlines the trajectory of Jamaicans who go to Britain in droves in search of ‘greener pastures’, almost as a way of reversing the traditionally lopsided terms of the colonial relationship; in the process, simultaneously imbuing themselves, at least in Miss Lou’s universe, with the power to ‘tun history upside dung’. They subvert the oppressive embrace of an ambivalent ‘motherland’ (Britain) by insisting on purposefully acting outside the proverbial box. Their efforts are epigraphed in Miss Lou’s words:

Oonoo see how life funny, (Do you see how funny/ strange life is,)
Oonoo see de turnabout, (Do you see how it can turn around,)
Jamaica live fe box bread (Jamaicans have lived to exploit opportunities)
Outa English people mout’. (At the expense of the English.)

There is no room for hesitation or staying in the back.

Like the Jamaican exodus in the fifties, the Beijing bound athletes know only too well that there is no joy in pointless work, often unsuitable to their dignity. They, like Jane who sits and reads romance novels all day on Aunt Fan's couch in cool Englan', are much keener on standing atop the podium to receive all the accolades and glory that go with that on the world stage. Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser, Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart prefer another kind of fulfillment – winning races; setting records and standing aloft in medal ceremonies, while the rest of the world watches their dominant display.

In similar fashion to Miss Lou’s rupturing of the imposed silence(s) of subalternity through the technology of poetry, the Jamaican athletes literally ‘tun history upside dung’ in Beijing with their speed at the weekend! They not only took gold in the men’s and women’s short sprints – a first ever for us and the first in twelve years for any other country, Bolt, Fraser, Stewart and Simpson also set two separate though linked records.

Usain Bolt astonishingly trots to the tape in an astounding 9.69 seconds, notwithstanding the chest thumping. Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson, both place second; in the process, rounding out the top three spots of the Women’s One Hundred Metres! ‘I Feel Like Mi Heart Gwine Burs’, indeed! What ah (h)excitement! To add insult to injury, the severely distressed Americans in their petition to have a rerun of the race and or a bronze medal are firmly dismissed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF).

Miss Lou’s ability to think, speak and act is a definite sign of hers and her country men and women’s empowerment in the face of the super power dominance of colonial Britain. Indeed, her victory, though largely intellectual is nonetheless occasioned by an important device – her consistent use of humour to overcome the paralyzing effects of (colonial) oppression.

The Jamaican athletes, on the other hand, use speed as their weapon to defeat their highly fancied rivals. The Jamaican Olympic exploits are comparable to Miss Lou’s ‘re-verse-ing’ of the oppressive discourse of Empire echoed in the actions of Miss Mattie, Jane as well as all the other un-named, though fundamentally present Jamaican characters in the poem. By shutting out the Americans from the medal podium the wily Jamaicans give new meaning to being ‘likkle but (wi) tallahwah!’ Definitely awesome!

On another note, it behooves me to add that, even as we celebrate and are justifiably excited for the Jamaican athletes, Asafa Powell’s crushing disappointment in the same Men’s One Hundred Metres event is as painful as it is real. Like the early Jamaicans settlers in Englan’ who brave cold weather and difficult work conditions some of which often does not suit their dignity, Asafa must be content, yet again, with criticisms that he is unable to translate all that talent into meaningful hardware on the world stage.

However, lest we forget, please recall that it was because of Asafa’s exploits in the international arena of record making which have, in part, created space in our imaginations for daring to dream the impossibility of setting world records as a standard. Had it not been for Asafa’s own refusal to give in to domination we might not have fielded so many confident, young Jamaicans in their unrelenting pursuits of excellence in Beijing as well as elsewhere.

I recall, for instance, that after his first world record run many athletes at the local high school championships, some of who are now in reserve on the Olympic Team and before that the World Championships, indicated that he was their inspiration. Even now, the twinned emotions of disappointment and joy so feelingly expressed in the One Hundred Metres on Saturday continue to light the path to a new dawn. Many are asking, as a result of Powell’s exploits, however dubious, what else is required to become the absolute best athlete there is.

No doubt about it, Asafa Powell is a trendsetter, if even of a different kind. His story surpasses Track and Fields Athletics and incorporates instead the passion, struggles, expectations and nascent ambitions of the early settlers in their ‘colonisation in reverse’ memorialized in poetry by Bennett-Coverely. Powell is the first arrivant in the epic struggle of colonial resistance; that is, should we choose to see the use of performance enhancing drugs (PED) in this way. Embodied in his pain are the seeds of self growth so urgently needed to purposefully throw off the limiting shackles of enslavement and colonialism once and for all.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has aided the process by taking a decisive step in leveling the playing field in some way, it is now up to us to carry the baton all the way to victory. I am confident we will! Powell’s loss poignantly counterpoints Usain’s victory and underlines the twinned paradox of life in Jamrock. Damian ‘Junior Gong’ Marley reminds as a result that life here is gritty and problematic, which, in part, helps explain Miss Lou’s poetry insofar as the sentiments expressed therein become part of the push for a different take on colonial politics contemporarily.

Miss Lou’s ‘re-verse-ing’ of the terms of the colonial relationship act as a likely beginning point for discussion as well as understanding the power of Jamaica’s athletic genius and the vast potentials which reside in that largely untapped space. I am aware that Jamaican-American novelist and scholar Colin Channer has already given, through an analysis of Usain Bolt’s running style, a treatise on the theme of flight in Jamaican culture and its significance to our current Olympic exploits. It is not my intent to rehash this debate, necessarily. However, what I wish to highlight is that the texture of our celebrations must never loose sight of the historical dimensions, both on and off the field of play.

By making a comparison between Miss Lou’s ‘Colonisation in Reverse’ poem as well as her own attempts in that regard; that is, through the act of writing about this process in Jamaican language, I wish to underline the extent to which Jamaican athletes are conducting a similar campaign now in Beijing. In their dominant display at the weekend, the young Jamaican athletes many of who are trained and groomed locally, have eloquently displayed their refusal to be cowed by the politics of American/ super power dominance. Their rejection of the notion of sitting still and or bringing up the rear for other more established and resource rich countries is, therefore, especially commendable. This crop of Jamaicans prefer instead to run, and from the front to boot. Theirs is not a campaign about second fiddle. In fact, it is not a campaign about fiddling at all!…Jamaica has come of age!

Gone are the days when athletes were said to pay their own way to represent Jamaica in big meets. Hopefully, gone too is the lack of an appropriate ‘local programme’ to cater to the needs of those ‘stars’ who were not fortunate enough to gain scholarships to go overseas. Through the efforts of Glen Mills, Stephen Francis and others we have produced world record holders and Olympic champions right here at home. A clear indication, if ever there was one that there are good things going on in Jamaica. Like the ‘Lightning Bolt’, the colonized subject of the Jamaican imagination is uncontainable in its ebullience and energetic in its consummate display of world class abilities. Lead by the new generation of Jamaican athletes, especially those in Beijing China, most of who are in their early to mid twenties, we appear to have a different conceptualization of time and space. Our play ground has widened and we are taking it ‘to di worl’!

Hardly surprising then is Bolt’s continued dancing even while the metal filled mouth of Shelly-Ann Fraser smiles back at us with broad abandon. There is no reticence here. The colonial dominance of the Britain and America are as much a target as anything else. There are records to be set, gold medals to win and upsets to happen. That cannot be done from a spectator position.

We will not soon forget Merlene Ottey’s many near misses at the Olympics and World Championships and the unpleasant moniker ‘Bronze Queen’ so unceremoniously hinged to her by her critics. As the ‘perennial bridesmaid’, Ottey bears the dubious distinction of being caught at the crossroads of a traditional post colonial dialectics of struggling to defy being overwhelmed by super power dominance, albeit unsuccessfully. Shelly-Ann Fraser and before her Veronica Campbell, on the other hand, are the modern day reincarnations, then, of Ms Lous’s vision of the overturning, if not outright rejection of the colonial politics of (super power) domination. Their victories, like Bolt’s and the two other Jamaican silver medalists in the Women’s One Hundred Metres in Beijing, China are emblematic in many ways of the overthrow of the might of the giant Goliath by the seeming inconsequential shepherd boy David, both of biblical renown.

Bob Marley tells of the ‘small axe[s]’ can fall a ‘big tree[s]’; in the process, reminding that where as size can be threatening, in the overall scheme of things it is really the size of one’s heart and the stomach for victory which matter more. Here, the big tree is, without question the ‘great Americans’, with their long sporting traditions often presumed by some to be of questionable excellence, which is toppled by the seeming inconsequence of small Jamaica at the weekend.

Like the Jamaican Miss Lou who is embodied in her work in many ways, specifically as colonial subject in her refusal to sit still and to be dominated by the tyrannical regime of colonial politics, our athletes are also victors in the international narrative of sporting excellence. They, like Miss Lou in her ‘re-verse-ing’ of the Standard (English) through the use of the Jamaican dialect have made us all proud to be called Jamaicans!

PS: Congratulations to Shericka Williams on winning silver in the Women's Four Hundred Metres!

PPS: Photographs courtesy of the Intenational Ammateur Athletics Federation Website: (www.iaaf.org).

1. Asafa Powell and Lindell Frater of Jamacia comfort each other after finishing outside the medal placement in the Finals of the Men's 100M in Beijing, China.

2. Shelly-Ann Fraser reacts after winning the Women's 100M Final in Beijing, China.

3. Shelly-Ann Fraser in full flight!

4. Usain Bolt celebrates winning the Men's 100M Finals in Beijing, China.

...More later!


Long said...

I knew this analysis was coming, just didn't know from which corner. I was betting from Annie : -) You should definitely organize a panel at CSA around this topic!

Your "small axe" analysis totally privileges the symbolic over the material. It works well to support the nationalist narratives about we "likkle but we tallawah", but really doesn't do justice to what is really at work. I know - that argument is sexy as hell: the subaltern is closer to the gods than one has been led to believe - who can't get with that? But, there's other stuff going on that we must make part of the story. Given the history of sports in Jamaica, we have never been as "likkle" as we want to claim even in this instance. We have an amazing infrastructure to facilitate and develop athletic ability, albeit in a limited number of sports. Running is among the sports that are privileged in terms of resources allocated; we have made it the point of investment and a source of identification since I don't know when. There seems little effort to support other sports in the same way because we have tried this one and decided to give this one our best shot. We have not produced olympians out of wishful thinking, but out of hard work.
What happened in the past two days was the perfect alignment of the stars: opportunity, talent and some serious luck. Nobody buck dem toe, eat poison food or drink night sage. They were ready and they were able to do what they went to do, which is their best.

The US might want to promote the argument that technological might, research and innovation are essential to athletic development, but that's not always, nor necessarily true. Look, if money and resources were all that mattered, Kenya wouldn't dominate marathons the world over for years now. Neither is it this "miracle" that we produced world=class athletes, and I strongly resist that notion that the cards are stacked against us, and that we triumphed over adversity On other measures yes. Total bullshit when it comes to sports. Again, the evidence is there. Sports is what we do in between and on top of all the other foolishness. You think we are sports fanatics just so??
Sure there could be more investment and more diversity, but the quality of the athletes is the endproduct of the years of investment and commitment at many levels prior to their showing up on the track. We have done our work, we continue to do better, and for that we should justly be proud. Buying the argument that we are not quite up to snuff but by the grace of god and a fierce determination not to be sent home with our tails between our legs is just ridiculous. Now, if only we could support and promote such excellence all over the place, and not just in sports....

Believe it or not, what our athletes have in common with the ones from the US, if you look beyond the surface, is that our athletes show up in this domain in part because of lack of opportunities in other areas.
The African American and Euro-American folks they compete against - same story. They have all been clawing (racing, etc) their way out of obscurity and away from the chokehold of poverty and lack of access to opportunity.
It may feel good to project individuals' achievements onto the nation and call ourselves great, and having conquered some important field out there, but at home, we are neither as noble as these athletes' performance suggests, nor the underdogs suggested by your analysis. The real answer is somewhere in between. alright; gone to bed.

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...

Hi Long, thanks for your comments. Insightful, if not altogether very instructive. However, I will have to disagree with you insofar as my point was never that we are purely underdogs. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, even the example of David and Goliath appropriately (?) captures that we only appear to be underdogs.

Let us not forget, David had God on his side. Most people will not consider that as an important factor, but I actually want to argue that that was the only factor!

For us, we had God but we also had the history of disappointment counterpointed by the illustrious record breaking careers of characters like Asafa as well as Merlene Ottey. Let us not forget that both Merlene and Asafa as well as Herb, George Rhoden and the numerous others have all contributed to this defining moment in our history. Theirs is as much part of the story as the efforts on Saturday.

What we witnessed in Beijing was not just a heroic feat of two (five) quick sprinters but more like years of waiting in the shadows, of sorts, trying to take advantage of the most opportune moment. That moment came with the increased focus on drug testing this year. Even the Athlete's Oath incorporated that into the Opening Ceremony, to the chagrin of those who think nothing of using PEDs as a means of stamping their dominance on the world!

Indeed, I learned only this evening that Michael Phelps has not yet been tested, even while the Jamaicans are subjected to a phenomenal number of tests, individually. That is telling if it is nothing else! In fact, let me also say that to the extent that the drug testing has, in part, contributed to the amazing riches on display in Beijing, makes an even more profound point - we have also been robbed by history.

They say that lighting does not strike twice, but it sure does strike significantly where it chooses to shine. The Heavens are have not deafened their ears to our cries of supplication. In which regard, I have more posts on this important discussion aimed at teasing out some of these very concerns.

You are perhaps quite righgt then in suggesting a panel for CSA, which incidentally will be in Jamaica next year!

Great idea! Thanks!

God bless!

longbench said...

"God is on our side"?? I see you're waxing religious today, so I'll just leave that alone. I'll also pointedly ignore your little jab above.

"illustrious record breaking careers of characters like Asafa as well as Merlene Ottey. Let us not forget that both Merlene and Asafa as well as Herb, George Rhoden and the numerous others have all contributed to this defining moment in our history. Theirs is as much part of the story as the efforts on Saturday."

That's my point. Usain et al aren't just some upstarts. They are the products of a serious investment of time, effort, commitment, etc. in cultivating such performances.

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...


Thanks for your comments. But bear with me for a minute.

If we can step outside of the religious or even the spiritual, both of which I think are important, can you consider for a moment that we are making the exact same point, just from different angles?

In other words, I am arguing that we are the "underdogs" in terms of the sheer size of those we compete against as well as the political imbalances which are set in their favours. In that regard, we are an underdog by comparison, if even relatively. In fact, we know of the near misses and the rest of which helps to explain why victories and records like Usain Bolt's are so important and legendary.

In fact, here is a link from the IAAF's website where Bolt is called exactly that - a legend! http://www.iaaf.org/OLY08/news/kind=101/newsid=47045.html. I am not for the first minute suggesting that there is no investment, nor that there is no effort, I am actually speaking to how that effort and investment has come of age, fortuitously, at a time when WADA are on the prowl. It is not at all coincidental that these things are happening together!

Call it luck, call it God, stars in alignment, call it whatever, I am just happy they are winning and capitalising on the advantage of a more levelled playing field (by degrees!) that is all I am saying!

Other than that, all your points stand!

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...

One other point. If you can think for a minute Long that, notwithstanding the overwhelming numbers of tests that our athletes have been subjected, according to media reports - more than most other teams, then it is really something special that they are taking it all in stride. My aim is not to suggest that we are inconsequential en toto. However, what I wish to argue is that we are, in reality, comparably of 'lesser value' in the overall scheme of things than these highly fancied Americans and that we have also been the victims of some questionable decisions. Remember Merlene and Devers in a dead heat? While, there is no doubt that Devers won, that is, when they go to the one one thousandth category, can you imagine if it were the Americans who were awarded the silver and not us? I am speculating here but I am making a case for the larger sense of the geopolitics of the Olympic Games and how, inspite of our size and relative (un) importance in the world we have ascended to this seminal position as a Track and Field World Power! That is absolutely awesome!

...By the way, Melaine Walker is from my alma mater. Just had to throw that in for good measure! LOL!

Annie Paul said...

Long, my analysis is coming this weekend...after Ja's medal bag is almost full...wow, what great performances, what an inspiration Ja's athletes are! congrats!

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...

Thanks for your comment, Annie...I must confess that I would have taken the same position, however, I did have a few things to say on this matter. So, I might as well have got in the mix from now!

longbench said...

Yes, I know we're making the same point from different angles. What I am resisting - and you can tell - is making the geopolitics so central, that this frame threatens to become the only interpretation of an amazing story. Rather uncharacteristic of me, yes. Truth be told, I am tired of constantly hearing us measure ourselves against almighty America; somedays, i don't even want to hear that word!

I really do think its also important to recognize that we have not been stagnant, and that we are figuring out how to work well in less than equitable circumstances. (Besides the armchair theorizing like you and I are doing, I don't think that there has been enough attention paid to the material aspects of sports culture in Jamaica). We have been prepared to excel in this area, and in time we will. This is our time. Justice and Righteousness always prevails, I think. That's as religious as I'm going to get today.

Talk about my skewed perspective: maybe it is my inflated sense of how stellar Jamaican athletes are that I don't see us as underdogs at all. Enough Penn Relays and watching the steady outflow of athletes repopulating college and national sports elsewhere is enough to convince me. In fact, I may take Jamaican athletes' success for granted - why shouldn't/wouldn't they do well? - and tend to root more for folks from places like Palestine, Uzbekistan, or wherever, because I KNOW dem nuh have nearly what we have.

one love

Long bench

longbench said...

I catch the Melanie Walker thing long time now - I laughed cause I just KNEW you were going to drop it in somewhere! and here it is. She was totally fabulous: that fierce determination to win - for all the reasons you point out - were written as plain as day all over her body in the semi-finals! She's my new crush!

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...

I hear you and agree to the extent that we are not really underdogs as well as your acknowledged resistance to argue geo-politics! What I choose to argue, however, more than the question of all those things is the way in which this amazing talent has resident within it myriad possibilities for national development.

It is my fervent wish that after we have gotten over the excitement - if we ever will! that there will be some real commonsense brought to bear on these matters of obvious national and collective (including the so-called Diaspora) interests! What might the important lessons to learn after the adulation nad excitement have waned some? Some have discussed a national monument, I saw in addition to that there is need to financially empower these athletes and their families!

Shelly-Ann Fraser's mom spoke eloquently on the subject of parental support on TV on Sunday. I just hope that ther is something that can be done also for the families of these athletes. A house in a nice community for starters?

Perhaps even in Portmore, where rent and the rigours of living are lessened some? What about an endowment fund for sports? Yes, CHASE is doing important things, but there has to be a wider and more sustained effort. A sporting academy like the Cubans, where academics are also focussed on? And where is the UWI in all this? I am curious.

As for the religion, I will work it! I am card carrying insofar as my confessed status in this forum, but I fully accept that there has been a long and difficult road which has preceded us to this level, no doubts about it!

longbench said...

I want to get to the conversation about possibilities - that's how I channel the headiness of all this. I can only celebrate for so long before the real work ahead makes itself known. I was already there after the first gold medal. I'm going to wait a bit before I write about some issues raised in the coverage of shelly-ann, though. And it won't be all celebratory of athletics. Right now, everybody well vex wid me because mi tink seh Usain and all dem odder man too show off sometimes. What a life.

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...

All I can say in response to that is: "ah di judgement!" Trust me! I welcome the discussion and especially pleased that traffic in cyberspace has increased exponentially around and in Jamaica since the Games started. I am way past the euphoria, though I cannot help but be elated and excited for the athletes. I have some more posts to place on here on these issues as well.

It is my sincere wish though that there is a greater effort made to get real ideas into the policy makers' forum re this matter. I would be interested to know whether they read some of these posts. After all, my wordpres page (which admittedly does not get as much attention as this one!) gets some comments from international visitors. Most Jamaicans come to blogspot. Don't ask!

That said, I sincerely hope that the policy makers are hearing the important parts of the chatter. I am happy to see, for instance, that the speaking skills of some of the athletes have improved signfificantly since the terrible and embarrassing days of CARIFTA Games past. I am also happy to see the dignity expressed by most of the athletes and less of the showboating.

I am willing to excuse Usain for two reason - he is young (birthday tomorrow!) and has set records! However, much more needs to be done to ensure that the Sporting Academy of which I am dreaming is preparing young ladies and gentlemen of world class quality through and through! There is room for growth in this area!

...But an excellent showing, nonetheless!

david santos said...

Usain Bolt, congratulations!!!!
"08-08-08" Olympic Games!!!!!!!

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...

Thanks for that David! As the latest slang expression here says: "An' so!" The next most appropriate, which everyone has been using all over the Internet: "To di worl'!". What do they mean? Usain and his team mates are the BEST!!!!! So, the Chinese did seem to have something with the 08.08.08!!!

...Talk up di tings dem!!!! (More excitement!)

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I have read it several times and enjoyed/appreciated reading it each time.The treatment, and incorporation/juxtaposition of Colonization in Reverse and Small Axe to explicate and demonstrate/illustrateJamaica's prowess and athletic achievements was/is masterfullyand adroitly done.Again,enjoyed it immensely!Nuff respect!

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...

Thanks, Anon. You are very, very, very kind. Thank you so much! Most instructive comments. Thanks for reading it 'several times'. Nuff respect to you too!

Anonymous said...

Raw Politics, that post listed as anonymous was posted by me.I thought I had lost it but I am glad to know that you did receive it.Nuff Respect!! ESTEBAN AGOSTO REID.

Raw Politics....Jamaica Style! said...

Thanks, Esteban! Much appreciated!

Done know, how di ting set up! Large up yuhself same way! Di comment ah gwaan! Fi real!



How important do you rank Dancehall's contribution to national development in Jamaica?