The 2012 London Olympics: Rally around the Caribbean!

Alicia Nicholls

David Rudder’s famous calypso ‘Rally ’round the West Indies’ came to my mind as I watched the end of the track and field events of the 2012 London Olympics on television today with regional pride. This song, which has become the anthem of the West Indies cricket team, is about cricket but the regional pride and call to action which it exudes can apply to any facet of regional life.

Of the two hundred and four countries represented at the games of the XXX Olympiad, twenty-two were from the Caribbean,  representing our unique melting pot of cultures and tongues. Since the region’s first showing at the Olympic Games in London in 1948, the way for our younger athletes today has been paved by several regional track and field legends, the likes of which include: Arthur Wint (Jamaica’s first Olympic gold medalist),  Rodney Wilkes (Trinidad & Tobago’s first Olympic gold medalist), Hasely Crawford, Donald Quarrie, Merlene Ottey, Ato Bolden,  just to name a few.

I would be the first to admit that unlike previous years, I was not initially feeling the hype of the Summer Olympic Games this time around.  But by the second week of the games, the strong Caribbean presence, particularly in the track and field events, was enough to shake my apathy and keep me glued to my computer to hear the latest updates.

The London Olympic Games were full of heart-warming, tear-inducing moments for all Caribbean people here and in the diaspora. Thanks to Jamaican athletes Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s lightning fast wins in their respective 100m events, the Caribbean can boast the fastest man and woman on earth. Smashing world record after record, Usain Bolt has been the first to successfully defend an Olympic gold medal in not one but two events (men’s individual 100m and 200m) and has undoubtedly sealed his place in history as the greatest sprinter of all time. Anchored by Bolt, the record-setting performance of the Jamaican quartet in the 4 by 100m relay brought a resounding end to the track and field events for the region.

The 2012  London Olympics has been the best Olympic Games for the Caribbean in terms of medal tally and the distribution of medals. The region won 15 medals in Sydney, 15 in Beijing and now 18 medals in London, of which  7 are gold medals.  This is also the best Olympic performance by individual CARICOM countries, with Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and the Bahamas all winning Olympic gold in track and field events. Jamaica has finished third overall in the track and medal table, winning 12 medals, only behind the United States and Russia, but ahead of other big countries like the UK. While the English-speaking Caribbean’s medal success has been in track and field, Cuba represented the region well off-track by winning gold in judo, boxing, shooting and wrestling.

Perhaps the most poignant moments  of the games for me were the successes of our young, first-time Olympians. Hitherto unknown and not yet twenty, Trinidad & Tobago’s Keshorn Walcott became the first person from the western hemisphere in over six decades to win Olympic gold in the javelin throw. Kirani James’ stunning win in the 400m dash gave Grenadians the world over their country’s first Olympic medal and the inspirational moment of hearing their national anthem being played at an Olympic Stadium for the first time.

The Caribbean is traditionally used to world-dominance in cricket, producing some of the greatest cricketers the world has ever seen. Now our region’s world class track and field athletes have shown the rest of the world that the track dust which we stir up is larger than the dots that represent us on maps. The symbolism of the Caribbean’s domination of the track and field events in this year’s games cannot be escaped.  For the English-speaking Caribbean, being able to flex our athletic muscle and assert our dominance against seasoned athletes from metropolitan countries, in the capital city of our former mother country, was an empowering feeling. The performance of Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago is particularly symbolic given that this August marks a half century of both countries’ independence from Great Britain.

Nothing can compare to the pride I felt seeing the flags of Caribbean countries being hoisted in the air or the look of achievement and love of country and region on the faces of our athletes as they stood atop the podiums to receive their medals at the medal ceremonies. It is Caribbean athletes’ names that will be on the lips of all who speak of the London Olympics of 2012. Their prowess will be etched in our memories forever.

In addition to this, the Caribbean pride I saw glowing from the status updates and comments of my Facebook friends, the impassioned cries of Caribbean unity and “one Caribbean” was truly encouraging particularly at a time when so many are bemoaning the apparent stagnation of CARICOM and the regional integration movement on a whole. Caribbean people both in the region and in the diaspora have been united in their celebration of regional athletes’ success at the London Olympic Games of 2012. The Caribbean pride that I saw during these games was not manufactured. It was genuine. Never again can anyone say that Caribbean integration is beyond our reach. Just as we have put parochialism and petty stereotypes about each other aside momentarily for the past days and rallied around our Olympic athletes, it is about high time our governments get serious about regional integration and rally together for the good of the region.

The Caribbean could not have asked for a better performance from our ambassadors. All of our Caribbean Olympians, whether they medaled or not, are champions and deserve heartfelt congratulations from the region. You have made our people proud!

Alicia Nicholls is a trade policy specialist and law student at the University of the West Indies – Cave Hill. You can contact her here or follow her on Twitter at @LicyLaw.

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