A Great “Dig” for Jamaican Bloggers

Well, the Jamaica Blog Awards are nearly upon us, and the “hype” is building! (Jamaicans love the word “hype” – it has become a slang word meaning “cool.”)

Jamaican bloggers unite! The happy group poses in the lobby of the Knutsford Court Hotel.

Jamaican bloggers unite! The happy group poses in the lobby of the Knutsford Court Hotel.

As a blogger with over 350 blog posts under my belt – it’s amazing how they add up – I have recognized the importance of research. Blogging is not about writing off the top of your head – unless you just want to vent. If you are going to write on a topic, for heaven’s sake make sure you get your facts right. Check, and double-check if need be. Make your blog readable and credible. As one radio station declares itself, “consistently credible.”

Now, sometimes it’s not as easy as you expect to find the information you need to enhance the quality of your blog. You Google back and forth, looking for the right information that will support your argument or add meat and substance to your article. You browse websites that are distressingly inadequate, out of date and user-unfriendly. It can be frustrating. But I recently came across one amazing online resource – mainly, but not entirely, for Jamaicans – managed by Deika Morrison under the aegis of the GleanerIt is called DiGJamaica, and it replaces the print version “Handbook of Jamaica” formerly published by the Gleaner. 

Even the mighty Google can lead you into a dead end when searching for Jamaican information. Why not find it all on one website?

Even the mighty Google can lead you into a dead end when searching for Jamaican information. Why not find it all on one website?

Fellow-bloggers, indulge me please. Take my hand, and let us stroll through this marvelous little website: http://digjamaica.com. Right at the top, there is the all-important search box. That’s a good start. Let the discovery begin…

I typed in “children’s homes” in the search box. A page similar to a Google results page came up, with links to DiGJamaica’s directory. Clicking on Mustard Seed Communities, for example, I found all their contact information clearly at the top of the page, followed by a description of the organization and listing of the services they offer. If you click on other buttons below, you will find the name of a contact person there (how useful is that! Having a name), opening hours, and “other useful information” – in this case, a note that Mustard Seed accepts donations and volunteers. Everything you need to know, concisely.

Mustard Seed Communities are one of the amazing non-governmental, faith-based and community-based organizations in Jamaica.

Mustard Seed Communities are one of the amazing non-governmental, faith-based and community-based organizations in Jamaica.

The directories are great, actually. You can search alphabetically for government entities, publicly traded companies, civil society organizations and international organizations in Jamaica. The civil society directory is beautifully laid out, with the logos for each organization. So nice to use. Sample page: http://www.digjamaica.com/directories/view/civil_society/kevoy_community_development_institute.

OK, let me backtrack a little… we should really have started with the Overview tab, which covers the broad categories: Land, People and Culture; Government and Economy; Parish Profiles; and a number of lovely slideshows on various topics. Here is a sample from the Arts and Culture page, a vibrant slideshow with good quality photos:  http://digjamaica.com/dance. And here is a beautiful slideshow of Jamaican Herbs: http://digjamaica.com/jamaican_herbs. There is also a lovely slideshow on our formerly-little-known-surprise-100 meters-bronze-medal-winner-in-the-London-Olympics, Warren Weir.

Warren Weir checking out his bronze medal. (Photo: Reuters)

Warren Weir checking out his bronze medal. (Photo: Reuters)

There is a tab for events. You can add your own event using a simple form – whether it’s a fund-raiser, a party or a seminar. If you click on one, all the contact information, a flyer and a map are all there. Very neat indeed. Free advertising. You can just direct persons to the entry for your event, and you can save it on your iCalendar. Take a look at http://www.digjamaica.com/calendar.

Then there is the data section, divided into categories. DiGJamaica is gradually building these sections, but already you can track murders and major crimes per calendar year since 2009; access 30 different charts on budget issues – Gross Domestic Product, inflation rate, remittances and many others; and browse 40 charts showing aspects of government projects and a breakdown of Jamaica’s domestic and external debt; the 2011 Census results broken down into separate charts; and much more useful information. There is a wealth of economic data here to be explored (pardon the pun)… and of course, politics too!

Resources: well, all of this is one huge resource, but this section includes all kinds of useful stuff – lists of emergency services, the Ministry of Education’s approved textbooks, Justices of the Peace in each parish, and so on. There is a “how to” section… apply for a visa, clear a barrel, address a dignitary…

DiGJamaica is a Gleaner project that really fills a great need for reliable and relevant information.

DiGJamaica is a Gleaner project that really fills a great need for reliable and relevant information.

Now to perhaps my favorite section of the website, “Our Past.” As the oldest company in Jamaica, the Gleaner has a reputation for its meticulous archives, chronicling the history of Jamaica pre- and post-Independence. There is “This Day in our Past” across the years, with several entries for today from the sixties, seventies and eighties. Did you know that on December 15, 1975 trading in the Jamaica Telephone Company’s shares was suspended in the Jamaica Stock Exchange? The government was moving towards nationalizing the company. See here: http://digjamaica.com/this_day_in_our_past/december_this_day_in_our_past/december_15. If you don’t have the book or want to look up one of Dr. Rebecca Tortello’s marvelous “Pieces of the Past,” you can find her beautifully detailed historical articles here. These were serialized in the Gleaner in 2003. There is also a fascinating timeline of key events from 1494 to the present.

The Festival Dance Competition, back in the day. (Photo: Pieces of the Past/Gleaner)

The Festival Dance Competition, back in the day. (Photo: Pieces of the Past/Gleaner)

And this is just the basic stuff. Click on “New DiGs” and you will find the latest information on HIV in Jamaica, and Transparency International‘s Global Corruption Perception Index. There is an excellent page on Children’s Rights in Jamaica at http://digjamaica.com/childrens_rights. There is a detailed Job Seekers’ Guide with lots of practical advice.

The “Top DiGs” is a very useful little sidebar, which will take you to all kinds of places – an important article on how to protect yourself from identity theft, for example; and – a most invaluable resource for journalists and bloggers alike – a link to various Government papers recently tabled in Parliament, in a flip magazine format. For example, here’s the Public Debt Management Bill tabled on November 30: http://digjamaica.com/public_debt_management_bill.

And hey! DiGJamaica now has a blog. This includes “6 Things You Need to Know Today” – a daily review of the local news. For the season, there are items on “Three Places to buy ‘Made in Jamaica’ Christmas Gifts this Weekend”  – see http://digjamaica.com/blog/2012/12/14/3-places-to-buy-made-in-jamaica-christmas-gifts-this-weekend/; and “64 Easy Delicious Jamaican Christmas Recipes.” There is also a new Christmas series, starting with the article “Jonkunnu a Come!” (Do you know all the characters?) There is a new feature, “Five Facts Friday.”  The first of the blog’s “Monday Musings” this week was on Human Rights Day and what it means for Jamaica.

Can you identify these scary Jonkunnu characters?

Can you identify these scary Jonkunnu characters?

A couple of other nice things: The moving charts are cool. Check them out for yourself. And the DiGTrivia online quiz is fun and not as easy as it looks (embarrassingly, I got the first question I tried wrong, at the “easy” level). How much do you know, or think you know, about Jamaica?

OK, who is this handsome gentleman, for example? (No, I am not going to tell you...)

OK, who is this handsome gentleman, for example? (No, I am not going to tell you…)

DiGJamaica is, of course, properly plugged in to social media. You can find it on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and you can subscribe to its email newsletter. And they are open to suggestions. If there is information you would like to see included, just drop DiGJamaica a line on their website.

Like all such websites, DiGJamaica is a work in progress, and a project that requires a high degree of maintenance and very detailed work. I applaud Deika and her team for an astonishingly good product; the design and layout is clear, bright and attractive – not too many visuals on the home page, but plenty when you start to explore. The charts and graphs are well laid out and “at a glance.”  I can see all the new improvements and additions, and I can see that it will go far.

So bloggers, students, journalists, information junkies all… take a look at DiGJamaica’s website, and arm yourself with all the right information. It’s there at your fingertips!

Jamaican Inspiration

As Jamaica continues to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of our Independence, I was pondering the nature of our heroes, role models and so on. It is wonderful to praise the successes of our Olympians, and the legacy of our National Heroes (although I am not so keen on the political ones, myself). But there are many other amazingly successful Jamaicans, at home and abroad, in many other fields. Sprinting and politicizing aren’t the only things we are good at. There are Jamaicans who are astonishingly good at what they do, all over the place. And by “success” I don’t necessarily mean winning something, or getting a National Honor. This kind of success is simply being very good at whatever you do. It’s a path you take, a journey you make – and it’s no flash in the pan.

I have been thinking about information technology and the amazing embrace of the digital universe that we now live in. Everything is a click or a swipe or a touch away. It’s beautiful, and for a small island nation like Jamaica, it is empowering. All we need to do now is bridge that tricky old “digital divide;” I see that the One Laptop Per Child program and other initiatives are helping to throw some ropes across that divide globally. We have pioneering men and women in technology in Jamaica, too. Ingrid Riley of SiliconCaribe is one of those who is pushing us along, and there are others.

Now, my husband recently discovered someone, online, and I really want to introduce you to him, dear readers – a Jamaican, an inspiration, an entrepreneurial master of his craft. His name is Lloyd Carney. And he is the same age as Jamaica this year – fifty years old, and indeed a high achiever. Forbes” magazine, in an article linked below, says Mr. Carney is “walking the talk” in Silicon Valley as a venture capitalist and IT entrepreneur. Initially, he made use of an interesting concept called the Start-up Common in Silicon Valley. I will have to learn more about the Common. Mr. Carney – currently the CEO of Xsigo (“See-go”), which was recently acquired by Oracle – is good at grabbing firms by the scruff of the neck and infusing them with success. Xsigo’s achievements are connected to Data Center Fabrics and virtualization. I am not a technical person, but I do know that although it is a small firm, it has a product that is greatly in demand. Xsigo is only eight years old.

What have I learned about Lloyd Carney? Mr. Carney was born and grew up in Jamaica – he attended Wolmer’s High School in Kingston – and in 1979 he stepped off the plane in Boston to continue his studies. He started off with medical studies – everyone doing science in those days was supposed to become a doctor, it seems – but medicine was not for him. He ended up obtaining a B.Sc. in Electrical Engineering from Wentworth Institute and a Masters in Business from Lesley College. He then went to work for various computer firms, moved to the West, created Bay Networks and ten years ago began to make great strides, working in top positions at Nortel, Juniper Networks, Micromuse and IBM Netcool, among other IT firms. Fast-paced and flying high.

But Mr. Carney is not just a faceless businessman obsessed with money. He “gives back” to his native country, to Haiti, Africa and to marginalized communities in California, where he lives. He and his wife Carole set up a charitable foundation in 1999, which focuses on healthcare and children. The Lloyd and Carole Carney Foundation supports a house for orphans in South Africa; has donated medical equipment to the University Hospital of the West Indies in Kingston and Black River Hospital; and donated a computer lab to Vaz Preparatory School in Kingston. Mr. Carney also serves on the board of the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula in California.

The glitz and the glamor of Usain Bolt is enormous fun (although I am afraid he has now become the target of the sleazy UK tabloids, which was bound to happen). It’s exciting and glittery and golden, and it’s Jamaica 50. But my point is: There are many other ways in which young Jamaicans can achieve, with ambition, determination, hard work… and yes, a touch of Jamaican flair and imagination.

Be inspired! Be very inspired!

Lloyd Carney

Lloyd Carney

http://carneyglobalventures.com (Carney Global Ventures website)

http://www.vazprep.edu.jm (Vaz Preparatory School)

http://wolmers.org (Wolmer’s Schools website)

http://www.bgcp.org (Boys and Girls Clubs of the Peninsula)

http://www.forbes.com/sites/petercohan/2012/08/22/lloyd-carneys-profitable-journey-from-jamaica-to-palo-alto/  (Forbes.com: Lloyd Carney’s profitable journey from Jamaica to Palo Alto)

http://www.forbes.com/sites/petercohan/2012/02/15/xsigo-aims-a-dagger-at-ciscos-heart/ (Forbes.com: Xsigo aims a dagger at Cisco’s heart)

http://www.xsigo.com/index.php (Xsigo Systems website)

http://www.xsigo.com/blog/2012/02/data-center-fabric-xsigo-ceo/ (Xsigo CEO Lloyd Carney explains Data Center Fabric – video)

http://www.siliconcaribe.com (Siliconecaribe.com – Jamaican blog)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20071007/business/business4.html (Jamaican venture capitalist offers business tips on China – Jamaica Gleaner)

Oracle to acquire network virtualisation technology provider Xsigo Systems (siliconrepublic.com)

Oracle Acquires Virtual Networking Concern Xsigo Systems (allthingsd.com)

Oracle’s sixth acquisition this year is virtualization startup Xsigo Systems (venturebeat.com)

Youth Using Technology to Combat Child Abuse (petchary.wordpress.com)

The London Games: Caribbean

In Jamaica, we have been rejoicing. Our Olympic games successes coincided deliciously with the Jamaica 50 celebrations of our fiftieth anniversary of Independence. We had a week or two of sheer enjoyment – not resting on our laurels, but waving them around. But the rest of the Caribbean had much to shout about too. Some extraordinary “firsts” were achieved.

Jamaica actually came second in the Caribbean table of medals overall. Our closest neighbors, Cuba came first. Here is the table of Caribbean medals:

Caribbean Olympics Medal Table

Caribbean Olympics Medal Table

Congratulating Jamaican athletes after the games, Grenada‘s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas said, Our athletes have proven that hard work and dedication yields remarkable results.”  I saw a tweet today comparing a recent beauty contest and the achievement of our (certainly lovely) representative to the achievement of Usain Bolt. I am myself not a fan of this parading of women in bikinis and snazzy ball gowns, and so I may be biased. But truly, how can one compare the incredible sacrifice and determination of any one of the Olympians from whichever country – over months and years – with a woman who goes to the gym every day and then gets dressed up and made up for a competition? They are at two completely different levels.

OK, enough of that. Since we started with Grenada, let us continue with the stunning gold medal won by that country. OK. Grenada is very small. Very small. I do not say it in a derogatory way, but it might take ten minutes to fly across. And in terms of number of medals per citizen, Grenada, with its one gold medal, came way out on top with one medal per 106,500. Yes, that is the total population of the Spice Island, as it is often called (it has lots of nutmeg trees). Jamaica came second in the per-capita ranking and Trinidad & Tobago third. So the density of Caribbean medals is really high. To get the same kind of density, for example, for the United States, which was top of the overall medal table, it would have had to win 2,880 medals. Impossible, of course…

Anyway, enough of statistics. Of the 45 medals won by Caribbean countries (I just did a count and the majority were won by the men), Grenada’s gold is particularly lustrous. Why? Not only because Grenada is very small. But the island’s Kirani James was the first Caribbean athlete ever to win gold in the 400 meters – a distance the Caribbean has not been very focused on. And it was Grenada’s first Olympic medal ever. A gold is a good place to start.

Kirani James

Kirani James after winning the gold medal in the men’s 400 meters. Isn’t the Grenadian flag beautiful?

And not only that – the 400 meters was won by three Caribbean men. After Kirani, there was young Luguelin Santos (only eighteen years old, just a year younger than Kirani) of the Dominican Republic with the silver; and Lalonde Gordon of Trinidad winning the bronze. A Caribbean “sweep” of medals. Also a first! Astonishing. (By the way, Trinidad’s 400 meters relay team, including Gordon, also won a bronze medal).

Let’s move on to another remarkable achievement – not in track this time, but out there in the field, where everything hangs on one throw or one jump, flying through the air, up and over and through. And this was 19-year-old Keshorn Walcott of Trinidad & Tobago – yes, another of several Caribbean teenagers who competed and won medals.

Keshorn was the first man in the Western Hemisphere to win a gold medal in the men’s javelin. The event has been dominated by Europeans for decades. Not even the United States has ever won it. In fact, the two Europeans who won silver and bronze – from the Ukraine and Finland – looked slightly bemused on the medal podium, as if to say: how on earth did that happen? Keshorn himself, the World Junior Champion in javelin, seemed remarkably phlegmatic – almost inscrutable – during the contest. Then, after the striking red and black Trinidadian flag had been handed to him, he walked and stood, eyes half-closed, head thrown back, savoring the moment. It had started to sink in.

To me, who can barely throw a stick for the dog across our front lawn, to throw a javelin – which weighs on average over three pounds and is well over eight feet long… To throw something like this, so far – well, it is completely astounding.

And of course, there has been much publicity in Jamaica about the rich rewards showered on both Mr. James and Mr. Walcott in their respective countries. The Trinidadian government has even named a lighthouse after Keshorn. That’s quite something, for a nineteen-year-old. I guess he can go and visit it every now and then and maybe turn the light round or whatever they do. I think it’s rather lovely actually. I adore lighthouses.

Although Cuba still won more Caribbean medals than anyone else, its Olympic performance has been declining in recent competitions. In fact, this year’s medal haul was its lowest since 1976. Why this is, I am not sure. Four of the Cuban medals were in boxing, a field that it has always excelled in. Leonel Suarez, he of the charming smile, was also made of very stern stuff. The men’s decathlon is an incredibly demanding event; I just don’t know how the decathletes manage to compete in ten vastly differing fields and just keep their focus. Leonel did, and won a bronze for Cuba. Two Americans won gold and silver. What I loved was the genuine camaraderie among the three medal winners – fierce competitors, but friends. Having been through all those tests together, over a number of days, of course friendships are formed and respect grows.

At 112 pounds, Yanet Bermoy Acosta may not seem to be much of a handful. But she threw her weight about in Judo. The 25-year-old from Cienfuegos, Cuba was quite something. I have a special fondness for judo, having practiced it myself in my youth – and so I was pleased to see Caribbean medals in this event. Cuba actually won three. Yanet was eventually beaten by a North Korean opponent, Kum Ae An – a special win for that country as it was its first medal.

And then there was perhaps my favorite Caribbean athlete of all, Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic. After winning gold in the men’s 400 meters hurdles, Felix was pure emotion. He had been running with a photograph of himself and his beloved grandmother Lillian, tucked into his bib. During a television interview, he showed the photo to the camera – somewhat crumpled, but intact. Of course, in the Caribbean – and especially perhaps in the Hispanic parts of it – grandmothers are especially revered. Felix looked as if he could have talked all day about his relationship with the “abuela” who raised him, but the BBC reporter abruptly ran out of time. By the way, his spikes had the word “abuela” written on them, too. He was running with, and for her. He had heard that she had died on the day of his preliminary heat in London, so he really was running in her memory.

Felix Sanchez

Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic celebrates his win. What passion.

Felix Sanchez was a model of the kind of determination where you grit your teeth and bite your lip and clench your fists hard. At 34, he was the oldest man to win the 400 meters hurdles. He had won the same race eight years previously in Athens, with exactly the same time. He had failed to even make it to the final of the event in Beijing, but fought his way back in London to beat an American and a Puerto Rican. Yes, this was another Western Hemisphere final.

But the emotion. The BBC ironically called the London Olympics the “Crying Games,” and Sanchez probably came close to winning the gold medal for pure emotion. Sobbing, in fact. He had a complete meltdown on the podium – the other two medalists did not know whether they should just look the other way. In the end, after his face completely crumpled, he covered it with his hands.

Felix Sanchez on the podium

Felix Sanchez on the podium. A man who is not afraid to cry.

I really wanted to cry with him. If I had been Dominican, I am sure I would have.

There was so much more to celebrate with the Caribbean athletes: the Bahamas won a stunning gold in the 400 meters relay, for example (I love that light blue kit). I congratulate them all and love their spirit.


P.S. As noted above, most of the Caribbean medals were won by men. Ladies, 2016 in Rio will be your turn to shine!

Yanet Bermoy Acost fights with Belgium's Ilse Heylen

Yanet Bermoy Acosta fights with Belgium’s Ilse Heylen, who is on the left with her legs in the air. (Photo: Reuters/Toru Hanai)

Leonel Suarez

Sweet smile from the man from Santiago de Cuba.

Trey Hardee, Ashton Eaton and Leonel Suarez

Trey Hardee, Ashton Eaton and Leonel Suarez: Respect for each other as amazing all-round athletes. The U.S. and Cuba – no politics here!

Oleksandr Pyantnytsya, Keshorn Walcott, Antti Ruuskanen

Keshorn and the Europeans. Weren’t the little bouquets cute?

Keshorn Walcott

Keshorn Walcott: There is both grace and power combined in the javelin throw.

There are nine Caribbean nations that have never won an Olympic medal. I wish all the best for them for 2016, where I hope their dreams will come true. I am sure the performances of all the Caribbean Olympians must have been an inspiration to them. Who are those nine? Well, OK (and bear in mind there are a few more that don’t have official National Olympic Committees: Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Aruba, British Virgin Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, Cayman Islands and Belize.

I can see more medals on the horizon, where the blue sky meets the glittering Caribbean Sea.

Luguelin Santos, Kirani James and Lalonde Gordon

Luguelin Santos, Kirani James and Lalonde Gordon: a dazzling Caribbean trio of medals.

http://repeatingislands.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/caribbean-medal-performance-london-2012-by-peter-jordens.pdf (Overview of the Caribbean’s medal performances in London)

http://www.spicegrenada.com/index.php/government-news/aug-2012/1482-prime- minister-congratulates-jamaica (Grenada prime minister congratulates Jamaica)

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/08/13/2950476/the-top-olympic-winner-we-vote.html  (The top Olympic winner? We vote for Grenada – Miami Herald)

http://repeatingislands.com/2012/08/06/caribbean-players-doing-great-in-the-olympics/  (Caribbean players doing great in the Olympics – Repeating Islands)

http://repeatingislands.com/2012/08/06/dominican-republics-felix-sanchez-wins-gold-puerto-ricos-javier-culson-bronze/ (Dominican Republic’s Feliz Sanchez wins gold, Puerto Rico’s Javier Culson bronze)

http://timclayton.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Athletics/G0000gGCpmN.XoBA/I0000Cf6G1yX7M6w (Stunning athletics photos by Tim Clayton including many of Kirani James – copyright)

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/olympics/19253050  (Lighthouse named after champion Keshorn Walcott – BBC Sport)

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/sports/2012/08/07/sanchez-wins-2nd-olympic-400-meter-hurdle-gold/ (Sanchez wins second Olympic 400 meter gold – Fox Latino Sports)

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2184634/London-2012-Olympics-Emotional-hurdler-Felix-Sanchez-sobs-winning-title-second-time.html (And the gold medal for sobbing on the podium goes to…)

Former medalists see great future for Caribbean Olympic athletes (antiguaobserver.com)

A Single Caribbean Sports Academy to ensure future World Champions (caribbean360.com)

Caribbean has one of its best Olympic showings (caribbean360.com)

Big results from Caribbean athletes in track and field at London Olympics (miamiherald.com)

https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/3477/ (Gold, Silver and Bronze – petchary.wordpress.com)

https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/the-gods-are-smiling/ (The Gods Are Smiling – petchary.wordpress.com)

The London Games: Jamaica (petchary.wordpress.com)

Book Review: Black Meteors – the Caribbean in International Track and Field (newsandviewsbydjmillerja.wordpress.com)

Felix Sanchez

Felix Sanchez gently removes the photo of his “abuela” from his bib, after his win.

The London Games: Jamaica

It is less than a week since the Olympic Games ended in London, and I promised myself that I would pay tribute to some of the incredible human beings – from Jamaica, the Caribbean and elsewhere – who gave us so much joy (and sometimes, sadness) during those exhilarating competitions. Before the sunset afterglow starts to fade – the fireworks have already gone. Before the Jamaican flags wave less freely from taxi cabs. Before the repeat showings of Jamaican athletes’ performances, the newspaper columns, tweets and Facebook posts dwindle to nothing. I want to celebrate them one more time.

For the record, Jamaica won four each of gold, silver and bronze, and came 18th on the table of 79 nations that won medals. In terms of medals per capita, Jamaica was second after Grenada. Jamaica was also the second most successful country in the Caribbean at the London Olympics, after Cuba. In track and field specifically – there were 47 events – Jamaica came third after the United States and Russia; in men’s track and field Jamaica was second, in women’s fourth.

I am celebrating here all our athletes, and have just picked out a few because somehow they touched me personally in some way. As I have said several times before, they all gave of their best. Some did better than others, but they all made us proud. I salute them all.  They are, in no particular order: Yohan Blake, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Hansle Parchment, Veronica Campbell Brown, Alia Atkinson, Jason Morgan and Kenneth Edwards.

Enough has been said and written about the obvious one: the self-proclaimed legend and superstar, Usain Bolt. But here’s one of my personal favorites – a young athlete who might be considered to have played “second fiddle” to Bolt (although I don’t see it that way) – Yohan Blake. In fact, a friend and I have set up a Facebook page (not only for Jamaicans or those living there – anyone can join) called The Unofficial Yohan Blake Appreciation Society.” A small but fervent delegation from the UYBAS is planning to welcome Mr. Blake home at Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport, when he returns in September. Personally, I would like to give him a warm hug.

Yohan Blake

Yohan Blake takes a pause during training for the Olympics.

What’s not to love about Yohan: 

  • He set up his YBAfraid Foundation last year. With the support of the awesome Jamaican athletics coach Glen Mills and Joseph’s Department Store, Yohan has donated supplies and pledged ongoing support for the Mount Olivet Boys’ Home in rural Walderston, Manchester. You can read much more about the Foundation on his website, ybafraid.com.
  • He is, as we know, the winner of two silver and one gold medal in the recent Olympics: silvers in the 100 meters (a personal best time of 9.75) and 200 meters (19.44), and gold in the 4 x 100 meters final. This was his first Olympics. He is only 22, after all.
  • He is only the fourth man to win silver in the 100 and 200 meters at the Olympics, and the first since the awesome Frankie Fredericks of Namibia (remember him?)
  • As a member of the winning relay team in the 100 meters, Blake ran a scorching third leg. This was the same team that ran in Daegu last year at the World Championships. With Usain Bolt, Michael Frater and Nesta Carter, he helped to break the World Record in 36.84 seconds.

He is a modest young man, not afraid to give credit to both Mills and Bolt for their support. I like that.

My next favorite athlete: Ms. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. She was born on in the very difficult inner-city neighborhood of Waterhouse in Kingston.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – I love this photo. She put on her best makeup for the awards ceremony, and her smile was fresh and infectious. No tears, here, not for one moment. Just non-stop smiling.

Why is she so great:

  • She was the third woman, and the first non-American, to win the 100 meters in two consecutive Olympics. In 2008 in Beijing, she was the first Caribbean woman to win the event, at 21 years old.
  • She is also the second female sprinter to hold both World and Olympic 100 meters titles simultaneously. The dynamic Gail Devers was the first. I should also add that the 2012 American girls were very powerful this year – so this is quite a feat. Shelly-Ann held her own in the 2oo meters too, winning a silver after the amazing Allyson Felix; they congratulated each other with a quick, breathless embrace.
  • Shelly-Ann was named as Jamaica’s first National UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2010.
  • Shelly-Ann’s face was painted in a mural in her neighborhood of Waterhouse (where she grew up in a tenement yard). She commented in amazement, “The only time they draw your face in a wall where I live is when you are dead.”
  • She is just five feet tall and weighs 100 pounds. Oh my goodness – the energy packed into that small frame!

And then there was Hansle Parchment. Who? Said many Jamaicans. Well, young Hansle broke the national record twice in one afternoon last week, winning the bronze medal for Jamaica in the 110 meters hurdles. Two very strong Americans, Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson, came first and second respectively. The 100 meters hurdles is very intense, and not for the faint-hearted. Born June 17, 1990 (barely twenty-two years old!) he tackled it with equanimity. The young man from Cashew Bush in rural St. Thomas, eastern Jamaica, attended Morant Bay High School and Kingston College, and is an undergraduate student at the University of the West Indies‘ class of 2013.

Parchment family and friends celebrate

The Parchment family, including Hansle’s father (center, in orange) celebrates with friends and neighbors in Cashew Bush – what a lovely name…

Why Hansle is so cool:

  • He ran a terrific 13.12 seconds, but soberly responded after his run that he would have preferred to get below 13. There is more work to do, he says. He has much greater ambitions.
  • He is studying for a BSc. in Psychology; that will stand him in good stead, one hopes, since psychology is a key factor in sports. But balancing his studies with training and competition must be challenging.
  • He is tall, dark and handsome (six feet five inches tall).

Veronica Campbell-Brown is somebody special. There is so much about her that I admire. A pioneer in the sprint field, she won a bronze medal in London – her fourth Olympic Games. As she prepared for the Games, she watched her favorite tennis player, Serena Williams, win the Wimbledon title. An experienced athlete, Ms. Campbell-Brown (or “VCB” as Jamaicans call her for short) was born in the same western parish of Trelawny as Usain Bolt. She’s a product of Vere Technical High School, a school with a tremendous sporting tradition, which was also attended by a certain Merlene Ottey.

Why is Veronica such a gem?

  • She is a serious achiever, with so many “firsts” to be proud of. She paved the way for the young ones – although she is only just thirty years old herself, so hardly ancient! Here are a few of her many milestones:
  • First Jamaican to win a global 100 meters title (at the World Youth Games in 1999);
  • Youngest ever Jamaican female to win an Olympic medal (at the Sydney Olympics in 2000);
  • Most successful Caribbean athlete ever at an Olympic Games (in Athens in 2004);
  • First female track athlete to become a UNESCO Champion for Sport (in 2009). A role model for female athletes and for Jamaican women.
  • Veronica appears to me to be so grounded. She is not only motivated, but inspired. Indeed, she has written a book, “A Better You: Inspirations for Life’s Journey.”
  • She celebrated Global Dignity Day in 2011. See a link to my blog post on this topic, below. It may not be a fashionable concept these days, but the idea of dignity includes respect, honor, decency. The next Global Dignity Day is October 17, 2012. Think about it.
Women's 100 meters start in London

Amazing women: The start of the Women’s 100 meters finals in London, including Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown (Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Veronica Campbell and Yohan Blake

Veronica Campbell and Yohan Blake doing a bit of promotional stuff in London. (Photo: Alex Grimm/Getty Images Europe)

Jamaicans also did extraordinarily well away from the track, of course. Swimmer Alia Atkinson just missed a medal, coming fourth in the 100 meters breaststroke final.

Why does Alia get a pat on the back from me?

  • The 23-year-old from St. Andrew is nothing if not ambitious. She really, really wants that Olympic medal. Or medals.
  • And to obtain medals, she needs financial help. Her plea was heard by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who has promised to provide this. Let’s hope it comes soon, so that Alia can start getting ready for Rio 2016. Good for her, though, for speaking out on this crucial issue.
  • Like Hansle Parchment, Alia is a student of psychology – at Texas A&M University.
  • She has a sunny smile but a look of stony determination in her eye. Focus!

And last – but not least – two young Jamaican men competed in the Olympics for the first time. Although they did not win medals, they broke new ground and they competed fiercely.

Jason “Dadz” Morgan is a determined man, and the road has not been smooth. He throws discus – not a popular field event for Jamaicans. As a student at Louisiana Tech, he decided to compete for his country.

What makes Jason special?

  • Simply put, Jason is highly focused. And as Jamaica’s National Discus Record holder, he knows he is good.
  • And, as fellow blogger and Jamaican journalist Dionne Jackson Miller notes (see her post below) he needs financial support, too, to continue.
  • The 29-year-old from St. Catherine, who attended Kingston’s Calabar High School – a sports powerhouse – coaches himself. That’s right. Sheer willpower.
  • He faces great challenges. He needs that support. He commented to Dionne, “I’m a big man, 6’3”, 288 pounds, and I’m not afraid to say I cry through frustration.”  Let’s give Jason and others like him the support they need, so that they can train, perform and compete, without worrying whether they can afford to attend a meet or not. Sponsors, where are you? Jason had none for the Olympics. But he competed for his country.
Jason Morgan

Jason Morgan, a man of extraordinary determination.

And lastly, a Jamaican warrior who fought well… 26-year-old Tae Kwon Do competitor Kenneth Edwards.

Why do I love Kenneth?

  • Like Mr. Morgan, he was the first Jamaican to compete in his particular field at the Olympics.
  • Kenneth fought valiantly against a Chinese giant (six feet seven inches tall) and got the crowd on his side, despite eventually losing the bout. He only just missed an opportunity for a bronze medal.
  • He is positive and he says, so confidently, “I think the big stage is next for me.” I believe him.
  • There is so much potential in the martial arts field for Jamaica. I don’t just say this because I used to practice judo – in my youth. It’s a great sporting field, encouraging competition and incredible discipline. It also requires enormous skill, strength and precision.
  • More power to Jamaica’s Combined Martial Arts Team. Big ups all round!
Kenneth Edwards

Thwack! Kenneth Edwards lands a blow on his opponent at the London Olympics.

Kenneth Edwards at London Olympics

Kenneth Edwards goes into battle at the London Olympics.

And finally, I am sorry I could not include all the incredible Jamaican Olympic athletes. These are just a few from the great team that made Jamaica shine. Let’s continue supporting them, even when the gloss has worn off and we return to our humdrum lives…

My next Olympic blog post will be the Caribbean edition! Coming soon to this page.

Alia Atkinson congratulated

An Olympic official congratulates Alia Atkinson after her fourth place finish. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn, Jamaica Gleaner)
Alia Atkinson

Alia in action at the London Olympics.

110 meters hurdles winners

Hansle Parchment (right) with fellow medal winners Jason Richardson (left) and Aries Merritt (center)

Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt

The young one and his “big brother” (in the nicest sense): Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt celebrate in London

Yohan Blake

The “beastly” Blake. Now when you get home, Yohan, go to the manicurist and get those fingernails cut!

London Olympics Closing Ceremony

Unlike some of my fellow tweeters, who yawned their way through it, I enjoyed the Closing Ceremony – or at least fifty per cent of it. But note to organizers: showing billboards and playing two-minute snatches of David Bowie songs is NO substitute for the man himself appearing!

Sunday Strides: August 12, 2012

Yes, we are striding into the next fifty years full of confidence and braggadocio (what a great word that is!) after our command performance at the London Olympics. (I am planning a couple more posts on that topic, so will not get side-tracked here). Many Jamaicans believe that this euphoric wave (which might last for another week or two) will somehow carry the island forward in a spirit of love and unity. Others believe that our twelve medals will somehow boost Jamaica’s economic recovery. Our Prime Minister is still on a high, and milking both the Jamaica 50 celebrations and the Olympic achievements for all they are worth.

Prime Minister celebrates Olympics

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller celebrates Olympics success with Ministers Morais Guy (left) and Noel Arscott (right) (Photo: Jamaica Information Service)

Well, that’s what politicians do. Cynics like me have strong doubts about it all.

So let us look at other matters. Among those issues pushed on one side for discussion later, there is that little matter of education. The results of the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations were released by the Caribbean Examinations Council on Friday. Our eloquent Education Minister Ronald Thwaites declared himself “very disappointed.” I think “horrified,” or perhaps to use an awful English expression “gobsmacked” might have been a better word. But then Minister Thwaites, having reflected further, described the results later as “a very disastrous lurch downwards.”  That’s more like it.

Of the so-called “cohort” of students who are actually allowed to sit the exams (which is only a fraction of the school population) only 31.7 per cent passed the Mathematics paper. Fewer passed than in 2011 (a mere 33.2 per cent), which was lower than 201o (a less than impressive 39.5 per cent). Passes in English Language showed a dramatic drop from 64.9 per cent (2010) and 63.9 per cent (2012) to 46.2 per cent. Again, this was only the results for those entered for the exam; many others – I will have to check the percentage – will have left secondary school with neither English nor Mathematics passes, one presumes. Plus, of course, well over half the students who did prepare for the exams – a two-year syllabus. What is to happen to these thousands of young people?

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites

Education Minister Ronald Thwaites (Photo: Gleaner)

Student sitting examination

A primary school student sitting the GSAT examination (Photo: Rudolph Brown, Gleaner)

How can we talk about striding into the next fifty years, when our young people are so poorly educated/uneducated/hardly literate/innumerate/untrained? Is this our work force of the future? One hopes for proper analysis, discussion – and solutions – to this crisis in the next few weeks. Yes, I do believe this is a crisis. If this isn’t a crisis, then what is? Will we finally panic when we get down to 20 per cent passes?

Meanwhile, Minister Thwaites has suggested cutting teachers’ vacation leave in order to deal with the issue of teachers’ unemployment. Yes, hundreds of teachers qualify every year and many cannot find work. Even those who have been urged to go into early childhood education – supposedly the government’s priority – are finding no jobs after they have graduated from teachers’ college. And what is being taught at those colleges? Are our teachers really equipped to go into a class of forty or so students and teach properly?

OK. SMH as they say in social media. Meanwhile Minister Thwaites has other issues to deal with. For a start, around 200 Jamaican schools still use pit latrines – in other words, the children use a dark, evil-smelling hole in the ground as a toilet. One such rural school made the front page of the Gleaner this week. The Minister took pity on the school and has issued an edict for real toilets to be installed by the beginning of the school year. When will the other 199 or so schools get their toilets, I wonder? (Having personally seen the condition of some school toilets that are not pit latrines, I can say that sanitary conditions in many schools are pretty disgusting).

Pit latrine, Mt. Rosser Primary School

This is not the worst I have seen, but here is one of the pit latrine huts at Mt. Rosser Primary School. (Photo: Karen Sudu, Gleaner)

Another burning issue for Minister Thwaites: the bookmarks. Bookmarks, you may ask, what bookmarks? Well, a great deal of hot air is being blown about over the printing of 100,000 bookmarks as gifts to the students of secondary schools. Minister Thwaites had asked for as many schools as possible to recognize Independence Day (August 6). The bookmarks were to be distributed as souvenirs. Anyway, these bookmarks bore the smiling face of the Minister superimposed on the Jamaican flag. Opposition Leader (and former Education Minister) Andrew Holness was furious. (There seem to be so many “flag issues” don’t there?) He has called in the intrepid Contractor General, Greg Christie, to investigate procurement and other concerns. I understand that the offending bookmarks, which are now useless, cost J$1.7 million. This would be enough to fund a non-governmental organization serving Jamaican children for at least six months.

Jamaica 50 bookmark

The offending Jamaica 50 bookmark. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

We will no doubt never get to the “truth” on this matter, but meanwhile – I wonder who authorized this? Did they really think this was OK, protocol-wise?

While we were all celebrating, Western Union shut down the operations of fourteen overseas branches in and around Montego Bay. We didn’t really see this one coming, and anyway we were in the clutches of full-fledged “Olympicitis” by then. The only conversations were about finals and semi-finals on the track.

The closure was, of course, connected to the heinous lottery scam. This remittance service has become a conduit for the activities of our Jamaican-based criminals, and I am, like the Gleaner, somewhat surprised that this did not happen sooner. The closure is expected to last for two weeks – possibly more – and it will not be business as usual when they reopen (or at any other branch in Jamaica either, one hopes).

Meanwhile those poor and needy people who depend on remittances from Jamaican family members living overseas were thrown into panic at the closure. I was amazed – and depressed – to see the crowds of Jamaicans, young and old, thronging the Western Union offices. Some did not even have the money to travel down the road to Hanover to collect their money. Women said they depended on the money to send their children to school. Little old ladies and frail old gentlemen were thrown into despair. Somehow, it frightened me to see such dependency. Although I should not have been surprised.

The Gleaner served up a number of punchy editorials this week, as if determined not to be distracted by the dancing in Half Way Tree, joyful as it may be. One suggested, “There is a sense that ministers are off on independent programs, seeking to outdo each other, rather than being part of a coherent whole.” Is this fair, one wonders? And if so, what is Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke doing about the growing food crisis? Ah – that might be a topic for another blog post; because this issue is not going to go away any time soon. Even the Observer got tetchy on the subject this week, with an editorial that pointed out rising grain prices in the United States, our huge food import bill, and the lack of a clear strategy to deal with food security. With another quick left hook, the Gleaner – while congratulating Minister Clarke on his national honor, a Commander of the Order of Distinction – reprimanded him for his lack of vision on the matter.

Vision. There’s a big word. It’s something we seem to be searching for, sadly and with increasing weariness. Like Growth. And Leadership! And Investment. And, oh yes, Unity!

And here are a couple of things I was less than excited about last week: 

Winston Hubert McIntosh (better known as Peter Tosh) received a posthumous Order of Merit (O.M.) in the Independence National Honors. The weed-smoking, profane, rebellious, unicycling Tosh, a former member of the Wailers, was murdered in 1987. He still has a website, liberally sprinkled with ganja leaves. I remember he was well-known for his obscene language on stage (but of course, that is quite accepted these days) – part of his rebelliousness, one supposes – and he played a guitar shaped like an M-16 on stage, too. Yes, a great role model.

Having said all that, I love Mr. McIntosh’s music and always have done. And yes, he spoke out against apartheid (so did almost every other singer at that time) and “Equal Rights and Justice” is a brilliant song. But I don’t think that is enough to get the third highest honor in Jamaica. Plus, I don’t really believe in the posthumous thing. If they didn’t deserve one when they were alive then why give people an award when they are six feet under, many years later? I’m sure Tosh wouldn’t care and might well refuse it, as John Lennon refused a National Honor. I also know that, although our current Transport Minister reveres the reggae musician, if the anti-establishment Tosh were alive today he would not be so popular with politicians. Didn’t he invent the word politricks” ? He would be giving them hell.

An article, headlined “500 new houses for Coral Springs,” puzzled me this week. The article declared that the said homes would be built in the dry limestone forests surrounding an already existing housing estate in Coral Springs.” This is in Trelawny, western Jamaica. Presumably that existing housing estate was also built on previously existing dry limestone forest. Forgive me for enquiring, but isn’t dry limestone forest a special ecosystem, an environment that is becoming very scarce indeed in Jamaica and that is home to the endangered iguana and other creatures? Am I missing something here? Someone explain please?

Finally, is this the only way that Red Stripe beer can think of to advertise its product? How sad. And how unoriginal. Like those endless dancehall videos. Bottoms…protruding everywhere.

And much more inspiring…

Congrats to the Braco Village Hotel, which won a TripAdvisor Award after only being open for a couple of months. I swear by TripAdvisor and am one of its “senior reviewers.” I make hotel and other choices based on its reviews. So this means something to me.

As a passionate Arsenal Football Club fan, what’s not to love about the Observer Lifestyle Team’s great feature on the club’s haute cuisine a few days ago. Yes, chef Collin Brown can whip up a wicked jerk chicken roulade. Go Gunners! The new season awaits!

And kudos to the Observer reader, who gave Independence Day gifts to students from the difficult Mountain View Avenue area of Kingston. There was a touching article about this by the Observer’s Kimmo Matthews, which unfortunately I am unable to locate – but it really was quite moving. I will try to find the link. Such gestures of human kindness are what the “spirit of Independence” is about, no?  P.S. For more reflections on Jamaica 5o and Independence, I would like to refer you to fellow blogger Annie Paul’s blog and 2009 article, “Do you remember the days of slav’ry?” The link is below.

Arsenal eats

Chef Collin Brown (center) with his jerk chicken roulade at Emirates Stadium.
Red Stripe girls

Red Stripe girls “pole dancing” at one of the sex-and-booze-infused “parties” that took place for an entire week in Negril over the Independence holiday. You can’t get away from BOTTOMS, even in the good old Gleaner. Enough already!! (Photo: Sheena Gayle, Gleaner)

Construction site in Coral Springs

No coral, no springs and certainly no dry limestone forest around here. (Photo: Jamaica Observer)

Peter Tosh

Peter Tosh attempting to smoke up a whole field full of marijuana (or ganja, as it is known in Jamaica).

As always, I extend my deepest sympathies to the families and friends, brothers and sisters, girlfriends, husbands and wives of the following persons who died violently this week:

In Memoriam

Ms. Natasha Dixon, 29, Mandeville, Manchester

Oneil Livingston, 26, Mark Lane, Kingston

Unidentified man, Grier Park, St. Ann

Unidentified man, Lawrence Tavern, St. Andrew

Paul Cooper, 44, Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland

Unidentified man, King Street, Kingston

Unidentified man, Charles Street, Kingston 13

Cecil Elson, 45, Spanish Town, St. Catherine

Related websites and articles:

http://www.cxc.org (Caribbean Examinations Council website)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120811/news/news6.html (Shocking CSEC results)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120810/lead/lead92.html (Cut vacation leave, employ more teachers)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/lead/lead8.html (Mt. Rosser Primary pleads for proper sanitary facilities)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Thwaites-says-he-s-ready-for-probe-on-bookmarks (Thwaites says he’s ready for probe on bookmarks)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Spanish-Town-hospital-patients-transferred-to-Linstead (Spanish Town Hospital patients transferred to Linstead)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120809/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Warning from Western Union – Gleaner editorial)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/lead/lead2.html (Western Union operators pushing to implement new security measures)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120812/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Food crisis and a disjointed Government – Sunday Gleaner editorial)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120810/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Incoherent Government – Gleaner editorial)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/cleisure/cleisure1.html (Beyond Roger Clarke’s C.D. – Gleaner editorial)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/editorial/Seizing-the-moment-in-a-time-of-crisis_12216161 (Seizing the moment in a time of crisis – Observer editorial)

http://petertosh.com (Peter Tosh website)

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20120808/cleisure/cleisure3.html (O.M. for Peter Tosh? No way!)

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/business/Five-hundred-new-houses-for-Coral-Springs_12224190 (500 new houses for Coral Springs)

http://www.bracobeachresort.com (Braco Village Hotel & Spa website)

http://www.tripadvisor.com (TripAdvisor)

http://anniepaul.net/2012/08/01/do-you-remember-the-days-of-slavry/ and http://anniepaulose.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/the-days-of-slavry1.pdf (Do you remember the days of slav’ry? Annie Paul blog and 2009 article)

Running late!

Yes, that was a play on words. I have been so absorbed by the Olympics today that I will be starting (and finishing) my weekly post late. Do forgive me. Our hearts and minds were in London, while our eyes across Kingston and Jamaica were glued to television sets and big screens for the 100 meters final, won by our two “golden boys,” Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Ernesto‘s rains drip harmlessly outside, as it passes to the south of us.

Soon come!

Usain Bolt

The marvelous Mr. Bolt immediately after winning the 100 meters gold in London. (Photo: Ricardo Makyn, Jamaica Gleaner)

Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt

Yohan Blake and Usain Bolt celebrate with a bunch of crazy fans! (Photo: Kai Pfaffenbach, Reuters)

The Gods are Smiling

Well, it’s now five days into the Olympic Games 2012, and I am hooked, line and sinker. This despite my declarations that I was already weary of the excitement and “hype” surrounding the Jamaican track team.  The football World Cup was, I asserted, a much bigger item on my personal sports calendar than the Olympics. But there it is. If I was one of the twelve Greek gods sitting on Mount Olympus right now, I would be grinning, shouting “woot woot,” waving flags, painting my face and fingernails in my colors, and generally behaving rather foolishly. (Which of the twelve would I be? Well, due to my birth sign I should be Ares, but he gets such a bad rap. Apollo, I think. He’s rather New Age and likely an old hippie by now).

Olympian Gods

A humorous depiction of the twelve Gods of Mount Olympus, by Gordon Dean. (Mythweb, 1998)

By the way, did  you know there is a Mount Olympus near Salt Lake City, Utah? In Mormonland, no less. It seems a little incongruous, somehow.

OK, well back to the beloved athletes. And yes, they are beloved. I love each and every one of them (unlike some Jamaicans, who love only the Jamaican competitors, apparently). I have taken them all into my heart, until it is almost bursting. My frequent exclamations of, “Oh, isn’t she sweet!” or “Isn’t that lovely!” may have started to irritate my husband, who has not been watching with my level of enthusiasm.

Perhaps it’s because they all look so young. They are young, and hopeful, and mostly very dedicated. Their mums and dads and girlfriends and boyfriends and kid brothers and sisters are often sitting in the stands. It kind of tugs on the old heart strings, quite a bit.

Take, for example, the South African swimmer Chad Le Clos. To his utter amazement, the twenty-year-old from Durban beat his idol, the awesome American Michael Phelps, to win gold in the 200 meters butterfly by the tiniest fraction of a second. Phelps had made an error right in that last little fraction. Young Chad could not believe it (perhaps he still cannot). What moved me was his complete meltdown during the medal ceremony. Unable to hold back the tears but valiantly battling with his emotions, his lower lip trembled uncontrollably as he tried to mouth the words of the national anthem. He was a quivering wreck. Up in the stands, his father Bert, who had been waving his country’s flag, simply threw the flag over his own head in a gesture of astonishment and joy. Do watch the hilarious BBC interview with the insanely proud Bert – link below.

And how cool do the swimmers look, striding out in their team gear from a little tunnel. Some wave cheerily, others seemed introverted and serious, others nonchalant, with wires dangling from their ears as they listened to their favorite i-Tune. A Japanese swimmer bows politely to the audience as he emerges. Then there is the ritual of adjusting the tight swim caps (like a second skin) and pressing the goggles into the eye sockets. Everything tight. When I used to swim, my cap was a hideous contraption with a chin strap that always came undone; it smelled of rubber and chlorine. Nowadays, they look so neat and slick.

Olympic swimmer

The Olympic swimmer – slick and smooth.

I have been hypnotized by the acid blue of the swimming pool water, the lines and the ropes and the whistles. I am absorbed by the images of the huge, glistening shoulders of the male swimmers lifting out of the water in slo-mo; the acrobatic flips of the girl swimmers underwater as they touch the end of the pool; the competitors’ watery embraces as they congratulate each other, unwilling to come out of the pool immediately.

Our Jamaican swimmer, Alia Atkinson, did remarkably well, just missing a medal in the finals of the 100 meters breaststroke. Unflappable and full of an energetic spirit, she seems to be enjoying herself. She set two national records when she won a qualifying swim-off against a Canadian girl and in her heats of the 200 meters breaststroke. She will be back in the pool on Friday, folks! We are all, of course, incredibly proud of her, and I would say she may have passed expectations: her own, and ours.

Oh my goodness. And then there was the little Lithuanian girl, just fifteen years old, who won the race that Alia came fourth in. She raised her dripping arms in joy. Her pink and white face crumpled in tears and became a darker shade of pink on the podium as she collected her medal. Just a girl.

And then…the divers, their elegant strength. The synchronized divers absolutely captivated me, their toes balanced in unison on the end of their springboards, utterly motionless, then at an unspoken signal soaring. Spins and somersaults. A little pool that they sit in at the end, anxiously hovering, waiting for the next dive, hardly looking at each other or their competitors. The men and women divers are so slender and strong. An Italian woman murmurs “one, two…” and then they go, with supreme elegance.

Away from the water, shaking the drops off, I watched the gymnasts with equal enthusiasm. There were the girls, all sequin and glitter – on their eyelids, their pre-teen costumes. They sit on the ground and pull at the bandages that support their limbs, their fingers – so fragile and so strong. Again, the little glimpses of humanity touched me. When a member of the Japanese team – so stylish – realized that they had missed out on a medal, his eyes clouded with tears of disappointment as he looked up at the scoreboard (a few minutes later, the results were revised and the Japanese actually won a silver). The proud parents of a Chinese gymnast stood clutching the bouquet that she had just thrown to them, and no one could wipe the smiles off their faces.

Two other gymnasts delighted me: Sixteen-year-old Gabrielle Douglas, a member of the U.S. women’s team which won gold, was the energy that held them together. Gabrielle left her family in Virginia behind two years ago to train with a Chinese coach in Iowa. I tried to post another photo of Ms. Gabby at age six but it wouldn’t post for some reason. She looks like a girl “on a mission” – to quote a current Jamaican song…

The other was another gold medal winner, the marvelous Kohei Uchimura – he of the spiky shock of hair and impish smile. Only 23 (so he might do another Olympics) he flew effortlessly through his routine. A competitor, Cuban American Danell Leyva, said, “If I spoke Japanese, I would tell him that he is the best gymnast that ever lived — so far.”

Kohei Uchimura

“I think it’s a dream,” said Kohei Uchimura, with his gold medal for the Artistic Gymnastics Men’s Individual competition. An artist, indeed.

Another African American gymnast, John Orozco, made me want to jump up and give him a big hug, after he failed on the pommel horse (a horrible contraption that I developed a real hatred for in my schooldays). He sat down and pressed his knuckles, his palms whitened with dust, onto his brow. He must have felt like screaming. “I couldn’t feel my arms,” Orozco said.

And yes, you’re right, I loved him too, like all those who won…and lost, and did their best.

Some other amusing little vignettes: Firstly, the South Korean women’s archery team, like middle-class housewives on a day trip, wearing those odd little hats. They fired their arrows with a light touch, and after a successful shot gave each other ladylike high fives. But there was a steely glint in their eyes. They won, very politely but firmly. A Chinese gymnast exhaled gently before each portion of his floor routine. An Italian fencer shouted and strode around the stage, arms high in victory, while his defeated Romanian opponent sulked darkly, glaring into the helmet he had pulled off his head. I don’t know if you saw any of the fencing – it was remarkably aggressive and macho. I had thought it was a very well-behaved kind of sword fight with fancy technology and helmets that light up red and super-sensitive swords, but no. There was considerable real-life drama, tears and stamping of feet and temper tantrums in some of the contests, both men’s and women’s.  Perhaps they just have too many rules, and they’re all rebels at heart. They want to tear off the protective gear, pull out those wires, and just fight – like in an old Errol Flynn movie. So it’s permanent frustration for them.

Meanwhile, the all-American boy Michael Phelps surged on through the bright blue waves of the pool to break the record for the most medals won by any individual athlete in any sport at the Olympics – a total of nineteen, but I believe he has a couple more races to go. With his big, disarming smile, he has the air of a college student (possibly a fraternity member) who loves to have a good time with his buddies and is not quite sure how he managed to be so famous. But he’s a fierce competitor, like all the others. As an aside, the remarks of our Jamaican sports journalists on Phelps’ achievement left a sour taste in my mouth. They concluded that no, this did not make Phelps the “greatest” athlete – just the “winningest” – where did that word come from, by the way? If Phelps had been a Jamaican, I am sure he would have been the greatest, in their eyes. But they can’t seem to see how biased they are, although they accuse other countries of bias. It’s sad to see that kind of blind nationalism. But that is the not-so-nice side of the Olympics. 

And then, ladies and gentlemen, there was the eye candy. As one might expect, the parade of stunningly super-fit athletes is quite dazzling. I’ve never seen so many six-packs in my life. I have posted a few examples below and will make no further comment – except to say that the sight of the male divers, their speedos barely clinging to their hips, was really a bit too much for me at my age. Bring the smelling salts, please, quick! (The girls seem to like posing on magazine covers and in ads, so I have included a few of those for you male readers!)

But wait…who do I see on the horizon? Here come the Jamaicans!

Louis Smith

British gymnast Louis Smith has a lovely set of biceps, there.

James Magnussen

Australian swimmer James Magnussen has quite a bod.

Tom Daley

British diver Tom Daley is very bad for my blood pressure.

Bernard Lagat

Kenyan-born American distance runner Bernard Lagat is a charmer.

Sanne Keizer

And of course, there are the bikini beach volleyballers…

Melanie Adams

Australian pole vaulter Melanie Adams is an aspiring Miss Universe. Get up off that track, girl – don’t you know the Jamaicans are coming!!

 wait…Bring on the Jamaicans!

Lolo Jones

American hurdler Lolo Jones says she is a virgin, maintaining that it is harder for her to keep that status than to train for the Olympics. Hmmm.

Caroline Wozniacki

Danish tennis player Caroline Wozniacki has her own line of underwear. Where’s your tennis racket, girl?

South Korean archer

The string presses against the mouth of a South Korean archer, giving her an added look of determination.

John Orozco

John Orozco tries to control his pain and emotion after receiving low scores for one of his routines.


Gabrielle Douglas

Sixteen-year-old Gabrielle Douglas flies through the air from the uneven bars.(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Synchronized diving

Extraordinary grace (and abs).

Alia Atkinson at the 2012 Olympics

Alia Atkinson at the 2012 Olympics: a down-to-earth, cheerful competitor. And setting two Jamaican records! Photo by the Gleaner’s marvelous photographer Ricardo Makyn.

Chad Le Clos after winning the 200 meters butterfly

After a minute or two of sheer disbelief, holding his head, then staring at Michael Phelps, it sinks in. Yes, Chad Le Clos won gold! He beat Phelpsy!

Mount Olympus

Mount Olympus in the land of Mitt Romney.