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Understanding the worth of sport

By Fazeer Mohammed

Today, before anything else, spare a thought and a prayer for Akeem Adams.
In a story posted on his “Wired868.com” website yesterday, experienced football writer Lasana Liburd has been the bearer of very, very bad news that represents an almost complete reversal from what had appeared to be the slow but encouraging recuperation of the national footballer from a massive heart attack suffered just over three months ago.
According to Lasana, the 22-year-old defender suffered a stroke on Saturday and “is believed to now be outside the reach of medical science.” Adams, who joined the Budapest-based club Ferencvaros only in August, was thought to be recovering well enough from the heart attack and subsequent amputation of his left leg (below the knee) to undergo the necessary heart transplant next February. But after suffering the stroke and slipping into a coma, Lasana’s piece refers to an informed source advising that “doctors in Hungary say there is nothing more they can do for him.”
Run-of-the-mill sporting stories, compared to the human tragedy facing Akeem, are so trivial and irrelevant. Yet while in no way attempting to make the pursuit of a pastime appear on par with issues of life and death, we need to appreciate that sport exists and prospers at a different level, a level where it is assumed that more important matters are reasonably well taken care of so that there is enough emotional space to allow for the luxury of getting worked up over the real reason—whatever it is—why Darren Bravo has left the West Indies cricket team’s already disastrous tour of New Zealand.
If nothing else, sport as it exists in the context of broader societal issues should make you even more appreciative of how privileged it is to be at or near the very pinnacle of a chosen discipline, to be able to attain fame and fortune doing something that is essentially a form of entertainment to onlookers. Not that it has all been easy-going, light and airy-fairy for Jehue Gordon, the University of the West Indies student who just happens to have produced the most outstanding sporting performance by a native of this country in 2013.
At an age (he turned 22 on December 15) when he is still refining his skills and gaining experience in the 400-metre hurdles, Gordon is a world champion in this most challenging—technically and tactically—of athletic track events. It may not be as much of a bolt out of the blue as 19-year-old Keshorn Walcott’s London 2012 Olympic gold medal in the men’s javelin, but it’s still a bit of a stunner.
Yet more impressive than this phenomenal achievement is his breadth of knowledge in his sport, his enormous respect for the outstanding champions who have preceded him in the one-lap event over the sticks, not to mention a humility and quiet determination that has allowed him to overcome one or two major challenges already to scale great heights without (so far!) losing touch with the roots and solid grounding that have now placed him alongside Ato Boldon as the only Trinidadian athletics world champions.
In an environment where so many cricketers represent the West Indies or footballers trot out in the colours of Trinidad and Tobago at the highest level without even a cursory appreciation of the great ones who preceded them and therefore a proper appreciation of their station in the sport, it was refreshing and uplifting to hear our newest world champion expounding at length and in great detail during Friday’s Sporting Edition after he was named the “TV6 People’s Choice Sports Personality of the Year” for 2013.
Jehue knows all about Edwin Moses, without doubt the greatest of the greatest over the 400-metre hurdles. He knows that the legendary double-Olympic and double-world champion went nine years, nine months and nine days (all of 122 races) unbeaten in the event and that when he eventually lost to fellow-American Danny Harris in Madrid on June 4, 1987, Moses’ time was 47.69 seconds, the same time produced by the Trini prodigy when he followed his mother’s advice to “push yuh head Jehue, push yuh head!” to just get the better of another Yankee, Michael Tinsley, in the 2013 World Championships final on August 15 in Moscow.
Listening to him elaborate on the technique and tactics of his major challengers—who goes out like a shot from a gun, who likes to have something in reserve for the home straight, who manages to sustain a 13-stride pattern between the hurdles for how long before fatigue takes over—it became obvious that this is a supremely-talented athlete who is also a diligent and dedicated student of his sport.
Queen’s Royal College should be enormously proud of this most outstanding product of their long tradition in athletics, just as family and the very close “three or four” friends he has always had should take pride and delight in the world-beating exploits of a boy-turned-man who has become a sporting celebrity without, as yet, feeling he is too big for his home village up Morne Coco Road.
Two 22-year-olds, one clinging desperately onto life itself thousands of miles away in the deep winter of the Hungarian capital, the other seemingly with the world at his feet being feted in the bright sunshine of his colourful and often chaotic homeland.
Ours is not to question why, but to make the most of life’s opportunities and bear the burdens of its greatest challenges with quiet dignity.
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