Let’s talk sports today. COVID-19 is extremely important but I am inundated with its coverage. I also want to avoid law and politics. Man does not live on law and politics alone, nor can he live on bread alone. Thus my change of subject today. Let’s leave the judges and the judiciary alone. Let’s leave Bill 10 alone. Let’s leave the politicians alone.
Sports is a great teacher and exemplar in life. We can learn a lot from sports. I have written a lot about sports to fill over 300 pages. Great sportspeople are constituted of three things: 1. Goal to win and all the motivation that accompany this goal, 2. Discipline to make winning possible, and 3. a great coach who wraps up his personality to enable you to win. Each of these can encompass a book. And success in life in any endeavour uses the same principles but they are better exemplified in sports personalities. Let me stop preaching and go straight into my article.
I will terribly miss the Tokyo Olympic Games that have been postponed. I was looking forward to seeing Tokyo again. When I first physically visited Tokyo, I was living and working in Washington, DC, on a work permit. An incident nearly developed at Narita Airport on my way back. Japanese Immigration wanted me to show them a Visa that allowed me to go back to the US where I had just come from on this short visit to Japan. I am living in the US and I just came from there and I am going back there and you want me to show a visa allowing me back into the US when you are staring at my work permit in front of you! They said the work permit is not a visa allowing me back into the US even when that work permit had not yet expired. And on the intercom, I could hear my name being announced that I was delaying the flight.
Someone had taught me to take deep deep breathes when under stress until you calm down. Of course, you can’t show the world that you are under stress and that you are taking deep breathes. You have to do it professionally and you have to disguise what you are doing. I calmly told them to call the airline to tell them what they were doing to me and that I was right there at the check-in counter with my return ticket to the US and my Zambian Passport with my US Work Permit stamped in it. The Work Permit hadn’t expired. I also told the Japanese that if they don’t allow me to board the plane, they will have to put me up in a nice five star hotel room and find me a nice job while they sort their problem out. It was not my problem. I had everything in place. Eventually after they would have sorted their problem, they would buy me a first class ticket back to Washington, DC and would have to explain to my employers why I was absent.
Imagine. Did I exhibit any evidence that I would go to a foreign country without a visa? I had a Japanese Visa in my passport. I had an American Work Permit in my passport. I was leaving Japan within the time frame that I was given and didn’t try to sneak away despite all the temptations. I love Japan.
In no time, sane minds prevailed and I boarded the plane. The Olympics would have given me the opportunity to see Tokyo again and who knows, I may have recognised one or two of these Immigration officers who caused me to take disguised deep breathes in a foreign airport. I love Olympic Games but COVID-19 has intervened. I have attended all Olympic Games since 1980. Attending such great sports events is very cheap for me. Really cheap.
People don’t know that I attended the Rio Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. And I had the best seat there. In relation to track and field events, I believe that almost every athlete waved directly at me as they crossed the finishing line. I was seated right there in front.
There were many memorable events at the Olympics. Of course, the hero of these Olympics was Usain Bolt, who accomplished what no other track and field athlete has ever done and probably never will: win 100 metres, 200 metres and 4×100 metres relay in three consecutive Olympics, thus getting Gold medals in each event he ever participated in at the Olympics! This is 12 years of intense international pressure. Bolt also won close to 100 per cent of the races outside the Olympics that he participated in, including the World’s held in between the Olympics. He has Gold medals in these other events as well.
Bolt’s victory at these Olympics in the 100 metres race was gripping. He started the race late and was still behind of about four sprinters half-way through the race. It appeared that Justin Gatlin of the US who always starts spectacularly, would win the day, but Bolt came zooming in front in the last 10 metres or so as Gatlin stumbled for some reason. What a race! And I was sitting right there in front and soaking in the drama.
What is also amazing about Bolt is his easy of personality, he is an athletic comedian and we haven’t seen the likes of him in track and field. Jesse Owens, the hero of the 1936 Berlin Olympics was all serious. Carl Lewis the hero of the 1984 was also all serious. Bolt brought charisma and sense of humour to track and field. In boxing, we had seen Muhammad Ali, as comedian.
Speaking of Carl Lewis, he shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same breath as Usain Bolt. They say Carl achieved as many Gold medals as Bolt, but Carl was a cheat. It was later learnt that he was using performance-enhancing drugs with the knowledge of US sporting authorities who protected him and there he was pontificating hypocritically when other athletes were caught. Before the Olympic Games of 1988 in Seoul, South Korea, Lewis had tested positive twice. US athletics hid the results. This was only discovered later. Lewis therefore shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as Bolt. Lewis even mocked the discovery of his cheating ways by saying that the statute of limitations had passed so they could not take away the medals as they did with Marion Jones and others, including Ben Johnson of Canada. American Athletics like Soviet and East German authorities are more interested in the medal count than in criminal cheating. Look at how the American Authorities protected cyclist Lance Armstrong for a decade! The Soviets/Russians were also exposed recently.
Back to Bolt. Now Bolt is saying that he has achieved legendary status like Muhammad Ali and Pele. This he has done in terms of winning. But no more. He seems to also be saying that he is the greatest athlete of all time, beating Muhammad Ali and Pele. This is a little too ambitious for this young man. He shouldn’t put himself up in that rarefied company. He is a one entry guy in the legend of sports, just track and field. Pele has many entries. The greatest soccer player ever and longest serving global soccer ambassador of all time as well as world statesman. He won World Cup Soccer in each decade he played: 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. He was the youngest player to play at the World Cup and the youngest player to ever score a goal in the World Cup. And soccer is not an individual sport like track where your individual motivation counts the most. Soccer is a team sport, where everybody has to be motivated. This is not to take away from Bolt. Pele was great. He was voted the greatest soccer player of the 20th century. And he is still going strong as world ambassador of soccer.
Muhammad Ali has a zillion entries, the greatest boxer of all time, greatest political activist, athlete of all time, greatest sports comedian of all time, greatest sports ambassador of all time, greatest Muslim sports personality of all time and the list goes on. Muhammad Ali was voted the greatest athlete of the 20th Century. And much more. Now there are videos of all these athletes which we can watch and avoid rumours in the period of Covid-19.
But I love Bolt. He is just out of this world. His records won’t be beaten for years.
There were many other highlights of the Olympics games. South African van Niekerk capturing the 400 metres race and beating the Michael Johnson longstanding world and Olympic record was spectacular. Towards the end he was still surprisingly accelerating while the others who thought they had caught up with him were left in the dust. They were decelerating and not accelerating. It was amazing.
But the most spectacular finish and the top-most highlight for me was the finish by Shauna Miller of the Bahamas who threw herself literally to the ground in a photo finish when she realised that Alyson Felix of the United States was gaining on her in the 400 metres race. No one had ever seen a finish like that one before and probably we will never see another one like that. All Gold medalists in sprint sports win Gold vertically, meaning running standing, but Miller by diving to the ground to gain mileage finished horizontally. By throwing herself forward, she touched the tape first. What a beauty of a finish! And she lay on the ground in front of me and smiled at me as I got up from the best seat in Olympic stadium to go to the washroom next door to the TV monitor that I had been watching all along. My sofa was the best seat ever from which to catch the Olympic action unobstructed. Right there in my (Rio) home.