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Walcott — individual of the year

By Raffique Shah

IT was an eventful year, filled with jubilees, anniversaries, pomp and ceremony. However, as I reflect on 2012, the most celebrated on the calendar since the millennium was ushered in, I cannot help but think that except in a few instances, the human spirit failed to soar to heights expected on special occasions. Ironically, our youthful sportsmen and women, members of a much-maligned generation, rescued us from marking yet another ordinary year.

The 50th anniversary of Independence festivities were supposed to be grand. Government certainly spent a lot of money, much of it allocated to select artistes and cultural activists. But all the parades and fetes and wine-and-jam extravaganzas would have fallen flat but for that one moment in time, on the penultimate day of the London Olympics, when teenager Keshorn Walcott struck gold.

Before that, the Jubilee celebrations were meandering through the country, attracting some attention, but not wildly successful. People were concerned with bread and butter issues. Inflation, especially ever-rising food prices, hurt everyone, but none more so than the poor. Many industrial relations matters remained unresolved and workers took to the streets. The economy was stagnant; business was slow.

In that environment of uncertainty, people weren't about to party their lives away as they coped with the challenges of daily life. Crime remained at an uncomfortable level. True, the murder rate declined in 2012. But police statistics notwithstanding, people knew that robberies, burglaries, rapes continued unabated, and mostly unreported. So the jubilee-related activities did not excite them.

That is until August 11 when, having qualified for the finals in the javelin throw, baby-faced Walcott climaxed his medal hunt. Before that, we had monitored George Bovell's exploits in the swimming pool, his elusive quest for Olympics medals to add to his Athens bronze ending in disappointment, not disgrace. We had watched Njisane Phillip, a face still new to us, come so close to medalling in cycling, We had seen our sprinters falter in the rounds as the Jamaican running machine, driven by the phenomenal Usain Bolt, made us proud to be from the Caribbean.

There were some pleasant surprises: another athlete we knew nothing of, Lalonde Gordon, made it to the 400 metres final, then shocked us by finishing third in a quality field. The winner, young Grenadian sensation Kirani James, must have heard the applause he won from Trini fans. The success of the 400 metres relay team made for disappointment in the 100 metres team.

Still, nothing had prepared us for what the boy wonder from Toco was about to unleash in what would be one of this country's finest moment in sports, maybe our finest moment ever. Walcott had arrived in London on the eve of the Games, having won the javelin throw at the World Junior Championships in Barcelona a few weeks earlier. His winning throw there was 74.64 metres, which was nine metres—understand it, nine!—better than his best throw in 2011. Still, that throw would hardly get him into the finals at the Olympics. Up there, men routinely throw past 80 metres: in fact, in the qualifying rounds, Czech Vesely threw 88.34, the leading distance for 2012.

Walcott barely made it into the finals, just clearing 80 metres—which, for me, was good enough eh. After all, this was a boy in a man's den, and more than that, a Black boy in the white man's arena. Which I find strange, white people throwing what is essentially a spear, a weapon I always associated with the Masai warriors of East Africa. Anyway, later for that discussion/debate.

So there I was, one of maybe a million Trinis watching Walcott, who had already made history by merely reaching the finals. The boy hurled the javelin 83.51 metres—and smiled warmly. I was in awe, because when they announced the distance, I sensed he could be in for a medal, but surely, not gold. To cut short my ramblings, I was in shock when he followed that with a golden 84.58 metres, when no other competitor threw past him.

Trinidad and Tobago erupted in wild celebration, even those unfortunate souls in Diego Martin and environs who were stricken with devastating floods. In that golden moment, young Walcott allowed us to forget our woes, our divisions and divisiveness. When we heard our national anthem play for the first time at the Olympics (in 1976, there was no live coverage of Hasely Crawford's golden dash), some wept with joy.

It was my most memorable moment for 2012. Oh, there were others, some not pleasant, some very personal. At the national level, Walcott's achievement made my year, and the Toco boy is my choice for Individual of the Year. Besides his stellar performance on the Field of Dreams, I watched the way the young man carried himself afterwards. Upon his arrival home, the Government and a grateful nation welcomed him with an ultramarathon circus. He must have been close to exhaustion during that airport reception and twelve-hour motorcade to Toco. But he maintained his pleasant demeanour, his composure, throughout.

In fact, he and other members of the Olympics Squad were exploited for political mileage as they ignited otherwise dull Jubilee celebrations. I witnessed similar political expediency with Dr Williams and Crawford in 1976—that during an election campaign. Really, nothing has changed. Now, however, with much of their generation gone astray, Walcott and our Olympians (and other sports achievers) have the moral authority to make a difference, to rescue many lost souls from purgatory, maybe Hell.

This lost generation does not trust politicians or priests. They might respond to exemplars like Walcott, though—a young man of ordinary circumstances who discovered that he had extraordinary strength and talents.

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