PRETTY FUNKY COLUMN.
The best of times in Beijing

JEAN LOWRIE-CHIN
Monday, August 25, 2008



"Double Bolt!" reads the cover of the China Daily Olympic special. In the store, a lady points to our Jamaica shirt and says, "Bolt! We love him." The hotel bellhop proudly gestures with his Jamaica key ring and says the one English word that is reverberating across China - "Bolt!"

Not to be left out, today's China Daily proclaimed, "Veronica keeps Jamaica on top". Veronica's victory sealed the deal - we are the undisputed sprint champions of the world. On Thursday night alone, Jamaica's National Anthem rang out three times in Beijing's Bird's Nest Stadium. To see our Olympic stars storm past their rivals and finish to the roar of the Jamaica-crazy crowd, to witness the presentation of medals, and our flag waving its lively black-green-gold to the thousands in the stadium and the millions across the world, to be congratulated incessantly: this has been our heady Beijing experience.

Wayne McCook, Jamaica's Ambassador to China, has been deluged with calls from the press about his country's awesome performance. "They ask, 'How can this be?'" McCook relates. "I explain to them that our athletes come from a long and deep tradition in track and field, close to a century old." He has been telling the international media that in 1911, a schoolboy named Norman Washington Manley at Jamaica College held the world record for the 100 yards event! He said that when Jamaica arrived on the world stage of the Olympics in Helsinki in 1948, and London in 1952, we made our presence felt. "Now we're at the pinnacle," he exulted.

Ambassador McCook began his tour of duty in China in July 2005, at a time when the country had made their hosting of the 2008 Olympics a national priority. For Jamaica to be headlining these Olympics, he says it has made our country's name instantly recognisable to the majority of China's 1.3 billion people.

Ambassador McCook's staff has been kept busy with arrangements for our Olympic Team and officials, and he has high praises for Julia Hyatt, Pauline Gordon, Keera Clarke-Mills, and his dedicated local staff. He says that there are about 100 Jamaicans living in China.

I spoke briefly with one of them, artist Courtney Hogarth, whose work was on show at the Olympics Fine Art Exhibition. The Clarendon College and School of Art graduate moved here nine years ago and now holds a PhD in Chinese Painting from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. "I had an interest in Chinese culture," said Courtney. "I also have Jamaican-Chinese family - the Nams, Lees and Hughs."

Courtney says he is getting calls and emails from all over China, his friends marvelling at the prowess of his countrymen. He says China has had a fascination for our athletes, noting that when he arrived here, the name Merlene Ottey was more known in China than Bob Marley. "Now the name they will be calling for a long time will be Usain Bolt."

You can imagine the anticipation of my husband and me, after years of planning, to be finally attending an Olympics.
But never in our wildest dreams could we have thought that almost every single day since we have been at these Games, we would see Jamaicans electrify the Beijing National Stadium with such brilliance. Daily we Jamaicans dress in our colours and line up with the thousands from around the world to enter the Bird's Nest. With every passing day, the commendations multiply as fans call out to us, "Jamaica!" and give us the thumbs up.

We watch the athletes enter the stadium and take their places, we watch them dominate and we watch the world's media converge on them with masses of cameras and microphones. Back at the hotel, China TV is playing and replaying Bolt's glorious double-Gold, double world record.
On CNN, on BBC, on the Internet, Jamaica's name reigns.

"You a go tired fi see mi face/can't get me outa the race," sang Bob Marley. But guess what, they are not tired! The fans can't seem to get enough of us. So what now, Jamaica? What do we do now with this precious gift of our celebrity, handed to us on a golden platter by Usain, Veronica, Shelley-Ann and Melaine, Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Asafa Powell? How do we transform this unprecedented popularity and goodwill into a peaceful, productive and prosperous country?

We will have to be like the team and the officials whom we sent to Beijing. Our athletes have been disciplined and well trained, their bodies honed for optimum efficiency. Our Olympics officials led by Don Anderson are the most generous individuals you can find. They are for the most part volunteers who have been teacher, counsellor, father and mother to the team. Our coaches are also now the stuff of legend - Glen Mills and Stephen Francis are homegrown gentlemen with stout hearts, fine minds and unyielding standards.

Those gratuitous reports, giving racist undertones to our performance, would want to dismiss out of hand, decades of dedication during which Jamaica built an athletics programme that would develop talent from primary school, through to high, through to club and college. I have seen the JAAA officials at such meets, ensuring that the most stringent IAAF rules are observed by even our youngest athletes.

Add that to a country that has been in the forefront of liberation and civil rights struggles and which has kept its democratic process intact, and you get young people with ability, discipline and spirit. Yes, Mr Rogge, it is called spirit.
That is what our Usain Bolt has. We are not a bland, sedate people. Our Marcus Garvey inspired the USA Civil Rights Movement and the self-determination of many African nations. We love to dance and sing, and as Michael Rosenberg said in the Detroit Free Press, "Nobody jams like the Jamaicans."

Jamaica, we now have the best opportunity to show the world that we can do in every other part of our national life, what we did on the track. Let's put all who would be leaders out there under starter's orders, let them run without the masks of trappings and connections, let us test them for the highest ethics. We demanded this of our athletes, and they delivered. We must now demand this of ourselves. Do not let this glorious day pass, for it may never come again.
lowriechin@aim.com
www.lowrie-chin.blogspot.com