Franklin Knight on the “Usain Bolt Factor”


Jamaican historian Franklin W. Knight, Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University, wrote a column this week in the Jamaican Observer about the record breaking performance of Usain Bolt and his fellow Jamaican teammates at the recent World Games in Berlin. Here are some excerpts, with the link to the full article below:

What, then, should we deduce from the athletic success of Bolt and his Caribbean colleagues on the world stage in the past two years? The most obvious observation is that population size and economic resources do not necessarily correlate well with athletic success. Representation at the games was based on qualification. Jamaica qualified more athletes for Berlin than either populous China or India. The Jamaican team earned more than three times the medals won by China while India failed to gain a single medal. Jamaica and its Caribbean neighbours are certainly doing something right in athletics – and they have been doing it for quite some time. But Caribbean success is not just limited to athletics and other forms of sports.

. . .

For a very long time the Caribbean has distinguished itself in a wide range of fields. Excellence like that displayed by Bolt and his colleagues in Berlin have been a consistent part of Jamaican and Caribbean achievement. This is not a region of whining victims.
Rather, the Caribbean has a long tradition of creative excellence in the face of adversity. Name a field and one is likely to find a distinguished Caribbean individual holding forth.

Almost single-handedly Bob Marley catapulted Jamaican reggae music to international heights, creating one of the most recognisable images worldwide. The Trinidadian steel orchestra is a unique Caribbean creation enjoyed around the world along with numerous Caribbean musical and dance forms such as cha-cha-cha, bolero, merengue and salsa. Jamaican Richard Henriquez has set innovative architectural standards in Canada for years and Jamaican Keith Morrison has displayed his excellent works around the world. Barbadian physician, Sir George Alleyne, served as director general of the Pan American Health Organisation for 10 years.

The Caribbean is distinguished in literature. Some of the best creative writers in the world have Caribbean roots. They include José Martí, Nicolás Guillén, Alejo Carpentier, Claude MacKay, Roger Mais, John Hearne, Mervyn Morris, Andrew Salkey, Edwidge Danticat, Julia Alvarez, Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, George Lamming, Maryse Condé, Paule Marshall, Vidia Naipaul, CLR James, Earl Lovelace, Wilson Harris, and Edgar Mittelholzer. Caribbean historians are as good as any others. Ian Randle Publishers and the University of the West Indies Press have been accumulating international prizes besting older, better financed and larger international presses.

The occasional bad news from the Caribbean, at times exceedingly depressing, should never obscure the tradition of excellence exemplified by Mr Bolt and his fellow athletes in Beijing and Berlin. The challenge in the Caribbean today is to strive to maintain excellence in all forms, not just in athletic events. With our gifts let us strive to do good rather than bad.

You can find the article at

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