The Bolt and His Ego

August 16, 2008

First there was the chest-thumping. Then, many of us saw it, but here it is in print:

“Bolt was clear of everyone by 50 meters, and with 20 meters to go, he threw his arms wide, looked around and even thumped his hand against his chest. As he sailed across the finish line, his nearest competitors were two strides behind him.

“Usain is spectacular,” Powell said. “He was definitely untouchable tonight. He could have run a lot faster if he ran straight through the line.”

I mean, Usain, come on already. Even before the celebrations are over, I hope someone reminds him that he is still a human being. Obnoxious men are tolerated for only so long, even if they are Jamaican, and no matter how fast they can run.

In light of the many disgruntled comments elicited by this post, and because being pissy is really not dignified or helpful (sorry about that last response…), I thought I’d offer another perspective on the Usain 100m show. Bits of this have been milling around in my head for the last few days. I recall that I immediately labeled the aesthetic – e.g. the gold shoes, dance routine, gangster poses – as one belonging to the “dancehall generation”; I really did just coin that term, didn’t I? I even chuckled to myself (yes, imagine that!) that the one thing that is true of this generation (not in terms of age but in terms of historical actors) of Jamaicans is that they do not ‘behave’ themselves no matter where they go. A certain kind of boldness, tunnel vision, and refusal to play by anybody else’s rules prevails, whether those rules would produce good results or not.

Then, today, after I noted that celebratory performances are part and parcel of contemporary black men’s athletics, my memory decided to serve me better, and I recall that this is not at all new. There was Muhammad Ali’s performative declaration in the 1970s (I’m not good with dates…), complete with outfit, about his ability to “fly like a butterfly and sting like a bee” which made trash talk respectable in boxing, even though I’m sure he was criticized for it.  Then there was the political stance – in the form of the raised fists on the awards platform – taken by African American athletes in 1968 (again, I’m guessing the year) in protest of US racism.  I am sure there are more such examples – certainly a lot in entertainment – which further locates Usain in a decidedly male-authored tradition among Black men of melding sports, politics and cultural performance even as they use their supremely spectacular bodies to challenge various notions of their presumed inferiority.  So there you have what’s going on in my head. No opinion here. Nopes.

Now that I got that off my chest, I might even consider going to search out what the other so-called critics – with whom I have been lumped (yes, I’m insulted…) – have been saying. Not today though.


34 Responses to “The Bolt and His Ego”


    Kudos to Mr.Usain “Lightening” Bolt in his astonishing,formidable and awe-inspiring performance in winning the 100m Olympic gold medal in the magnificent time of 9.69 seconds,while turning off the engines by coasting to the finish/tape.Certainly,had Mr.Bolt maintained form,by not throwing his arms wide and celebrating pre-maturely, by thumping his chest before the end of the race,one can only imagine how amazing and intimidating a time he would have clocked/recorded.With regard to his chest thumping,one is of the perspective that it could/can be viewed or interpreted as a form of youthful indiscretion,injudiciousness,exuberance and enthusiasm,which lends or allows for a certain level of show boating,grandstanding,and ostentatious behaviour.

    Indeed,Mr.Bolt is only twenty one years, and he has achieved a considerable amount of international fame,reputation and notoriety, which will definitely increase exponentially post Beijing.Hopefully,with time and proper management his ego will be more restrained/tamed, but this specific moment,undoubtedly,certainly belongs to Mr.Bolt and he should definitely relish,enjoy and appreciate it. Interestingly,and by way of comparison and contrast,Mr. Bolt’s teammate Mr. Asafa Powell,an extremely gifted,talented and industrious athlete, is almost diametrically opposite to Mr. Bolt in terms of their personalities/psychologies. One wonders if this difference is what is preventing Mr. Powell from being successful in the really big meets,i.e.,Olympics and World Championships.Granted,my observation(s) is/are not scientific but the question of ego, specifically, as it relates to self-confidence,self-esteem,hubris and the larger question or issues of behaviour could be problematic vis-a-vis Mr. Powell.Surely,a certain amount of ego/hubris can provide an athlete with an edge that is generally required for being victorious.Although,a very decent human being,it is quite apparent that Mr.Powell is lacking or deficient in that department?

    In Mr. Bolt, what Jamaica is witnessing, is a once in a lifetime athlete,and in all honesty,the making or evolution of a true global celebrity,who will be branded with a new nomenclature of LIGHTENING BOLT,or probably just one name LIGHTENING, in a somewhat similar manner to Brazilian soccer stars.This inevitable evolution and metamorphosis is already underway via the process of Mr.Bolt’natural talents,industry,stellar performances of mining gold in Beijing in the 100m,200m and 4x100m relay,his supposedly egotistical behaviour, all couched within the context of rapacious commercialization and commoditization of his persona/LIGHTENING.For Mr.Bolt’s sake,one his extremely happy for him and his stellar achievements to date, and what he has done for Jamaica and its athletics tradition.As a son of the Black,Green and Gold,all Jamaica wants the best for Mr. Bolt,we are extremely enamoured by him, and indeed wishing him the best in terms of Beijing and post Beijing.Lightening Bolt, wi luv yuh, dweet fi yuh self and fi di BLACK, GREEN and GOLD.


    Corrections are in order with respect to the word LIGHTNING.In my comment,I repeatedly incorporated the letter “E” in the spelling, please read as LIGHTNING as opposed to LIGHTENING.Thanks!

  3. duttybwoy Says:

    I celebrate Usain Bolt’s greatness, I celebrate his thumping of his chest, extending his arms, the gully creep dance and rubbing it in the faces of all. He is the world record holder of the men’s 100m sprint, thanks to confidence, calmness, focus and just having fun.

    Be obnoxious Bolt, grandstand, showboat all you want. He has achieved a feat no man or woman in this world has achieved and at 21 years old.

    He can not hear the negative remarks the cheering is too loud.

    God bless

  4. longbench Says:

    Esteban – Yes, this is indeed talent like we have never seen before. Let’s hope we – and the persons closest to him – can offer the kind of support and encouragement that allows him to become his best in every way. That youthful exuberance, as you call it, can quickly become an albatross and source of all kinds of unexpected embarassments.

    Raw talent is one thing, but ego and hubris are what allows these athletes to be able to compete in the first place. Having a sense that one is exceptional at what one does is essential to competing at this level. But, don’t forget, everyone else who is in the race has that same sense too. It is all about the stars being perfectly aligned at the moment. Usain could have bucked his toe and fallen on his face. Thank god he didn’t. Things just happen and when they don’t we can all breathe a sigh of relief. I don’t know much about Asafa; I get a feeling that he is tired – both psychologically and physically – of the kind of scrutiny that has been aimed at him once he hit the international stage, including the doping stuff. I don’t think he was insulated enough from all the suspicions etc. Asafa has also learned, and so will Usain, that the public is extremely fickle as well; we support when we, with the aid of the media’s propaganda, believe there is promise; and withdraw that support when we feel vexed about something. At the end of the day, regardless of what is being said everywhere, Asafa has to focus on competing against himself, not Usain or anybody else. If he feels that he has already hit his personal best, then he’s not going to be able to do better.

    Dutty bwoy – how me whe’n know seh a so yuh ‘go seh? Next ting yuh ready fi tell mi seh a grudgeful mi grudgeful! Mi cya’a even run fowl much less 100 m. Lawks.

    I love the olympics for the amazing kinds of athletic ability that these select few have. Everybody who is able to compete are potential medal-holders. When someone excels above the others and even their own expectations, its totally worth celebrating. Not gloating, celebrating. In my eyes, reducing the olympics competitions to “look pon me, me betta dan di res o dem” is tantamount to disrespecting the talents of everyone else. I tend to have a lot more respect and regard for people who are humble, recognize that they are indeed special, and that other people have value too. The only other athletes that I recall who also acted like fools on the worldstage are Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson. See what happened to them…

    Anyway, continue the celebrations massa. Now what else do we get out of this besides being fellow countrypersons of the one Lightning Bolt? You know what I want – Usain to be the spokesperson for a reading/literacy campaign. That would be a nice gift.


    Jamaican women sweep 100m final.Shelly Ann Fraser winner in 10.78 seconds.Dead heat for second between Sherrone Simpson and Kerron Stewart.Rally around the BLACK,GREEN and GOLD.

  6. […] a matter-of-fact “Ah, yes Matt, you did. Your eyes weren't fooling you”, Jamaican Long Bench thought the theatrics were a bit too much: I hope someone reminds him that he is still a human […]

  7. […] he made a mockery of the race, literally and figuratively. Others chided him for clowning around. Egotistic, said one blogger. Disrepectful, said others. He missed an opportunity to truly devestate the world […]

  8. Rohan Says:

    He wasnt being obnoxious. Does he sound obnoxious? Unless you’re Jamaican you will misconstrue it as being obnoxious,.

  9. Rohan Says:

    one would think it was the whole world running the race and not one man. there will be other days to break the world record. he’s only 21. the most important thing was to be olympic champion. for the next 4 years no one can take that from him. everything else is secondary.

  10. Rohan Says:

    disrespectful? i really fail to see that. if the other runners wanted him to run through the tape they should have faster, asafa ran more than two tenths slower than his fastest time. he treated it like a heat because well there was no one to push him. why should he have been trying to bust the tape when he could see that he had won and won easily too. it makes the rest look bad for not being faster especially asafa. man i never thought i would see the day when jamaica has a choker but sad as it is to say asafa is a choker.

  11. duttybwoy Says:

    You are right Rohan. When he realize he won he should have stopped and bang his head on the ground, cry and make a big stink. As to beating his chest he should have punch himself in the face and give the crown the finger, to hell with the victory lap.

    Imagine here we are as Jamaicans in the biggest victory in track and field ever and we find time to nit pick, bicker and criticize. One of our greatest fault is our readiness to pull each other down instead of lifting ourselves up.

    Bolt has made history, some young boy or girl watched that race and is inspired and motivated, even Shelly-Ann Fraser said it her self that after Bolt’s victory she was more ready. In an interview with NBC she she proudly pro-claim she trains with him and did it for him too. Why can’t we be more like her.

    Bolt did what no other person has done, yes he could have run a 9.50 somethinghad he not celebrate 20 meters from the finish line, so what. Its his race to win. He said he was not trying to make a record he was trying to win a gold medal and have fun, that’s right, have fun. He makes faces to the camera he plays little pranks on the chiney lady who took his bag before the race, he is confident and being himself.Should he change that and be a robot like what we think he should be.

    I hate to say this but maybe is Powell was more relaxed like Bolt he would not choke at big events. I was personally cheering for Powell to win the 100 meters and Bolt the 200m that way they both take home gold.

    He is who he is.

  12. longbench Says:

    I responded to Rohan personally (blasted facety fi come tell me bout what mi suppose fi tink…!)

    Duttybwoy – I am sorry that you feel it necessary to overstate the point I raise in this way. I don’t feel that I need to be so caught up in the euphoria that I can’t recognize a great athlete when I see one, or to record my own observations about how he chooses to conduct himself. In my view, there’s a playfulness about Usain that is endearing; when that playfulness is distracting or even mocks an event that we otherwise take seriously, I find that completely inappropriate and annoying. It might be a joke ting to him, is not a joke ting to anybody else in there.

    What is of more concern to me, and which I pointed out in my post, is that, sooner or later, he will recognize that he might have great talent, but that’s not all that matters if he’s going to be this great “star” beyond the track.

    I am glad that you raise Shelly-Ann, because this young woman has been everything that Usain is not in the aftermath of her win.

    Gracious, self-aware, unassuming, and genuinely delighted and awestruck in her own performance at the same time that she is able to see and revel in the success of others, while also demonstrating genuine empathy for her teammembers, including Asafa. I truly laughed and enjoyed her win; it actually felt good.

    So, I could pose a similar question to you: why can’t/don’t we expect all of our athletes to be like her? Usain is all about Usain; that’s clear before the race even started. Others might not say it in this way, but it’s that particularly Jamaican masculine bravado thing that I find so obnoxious (no, that’s not the same as self-confidence, which is Asafa’s issue). Already annoying on an everyday level, watching it on display at the international level is particularly galling to me. ‘im head well swell a’ready. And the bigger he gets, the more obnoxious he is going to be. That is, unless his antics come back to bite him in the ass. Stay tuned.

  13. longbench Says:

    For those of you with no sense of humour or perspective, this should help you out:

    Top Ten Things Usain Bolt Could Have Done With the Extra Time He Had in the 100m Sprint

  14. Rohan Says:

    there are some people who want to dejamaicanize Jamaica. we nuh inna dat. mek the man celebrate him victory how him want. a him win nuh me or you.

  15. […] the race. While every blogger discussed how proud they were of Jamaica, one blogger focused “The Bolt and His Ego” and was already “annoyed” and predicting his down fall because she as she put it […]

  16. Rohan Says:

    you have a personal dislike of usain bolt since everything he does in public annoys you. which i find odd anyway. he’s not your friend he’s an athlete. and while you both are jamaican in name i would say from where i sit he’s a lot more welcome there than you. calling people sweetheart? in case you didnt know they still chop up chi chi man in ja. i’d keep that under wraps if i were you.

  17. longbench Says:

    Rohan — Your comment suggests that you have not sufficiently digested any of my remarks. I suggest that you go and take some time to do so before you respond again. I have also suggested – strongly – that you go and read the “rules of engagement” page. This is your last warning, sweetheart. If you feel so threatened by a term, then it is you who have the problem and not me. Invoking violence on my blog – whether directly against me or against anyone else – is not welcome. Consider yourself warned.

  18. nearlynormalized Says:

    Let the child enjoy himself–Jamaica man–life is good and I am not pretty but I run fast–come on loosen up.
    You only live once and I love Lolo Jones.

  19. Rohan Says:

    “the repressive anti-intellectual, anti-literate and unkind environment that is the Jamaican diaspora”

    When one reads that it’s clear why you cannot find enjoyment in Bolt’s performance or celebration. Anti-intellectual? Anti-literate? Makes it sound like Jamaica is living in the time of the Khmer Rouge. It’s clear you have some issues with perception of self. Makes me feel sad that someone from Jamaica can feel that way about one’s own people and country.

  20. I loved it. I am an American but am totally awestruck by this man’s speed and the ease with which he is winning. He is the fastest man ever known and he deserves his celebration. I think his critics should take a break and enjoy seeing such a great athlete.

  21. jdid Says:

    Does no one remember 2004 when the american sprinter crawford posed, acted a jackass and generally acted a fool after winning his finals? he didnt get nearly as much crap thrown his way as Bolt

  22. Rohan Says:

    Well the blogger is ashamed of how Bolt acted. Not just because he’s Jamaican I suppose but more likely because she doesn’t think people should act that way. Good thing it’s a free world and her opinion like mine an is just an opinion and doesn’t affect the price of rice. The whole internet is afire with people attacking and defending Bolt in equal measure but I can tell you here in America it’s because of 2 things. One he’a black and second he’s not American. If he was black and American Bob Costas wouldn’t have had a hissy fit. But since he’s not helping their medal count they bitch and moan.

    As for the blogger you insult someone’s age without even knowing how old they are? I presume there is a point in there somewhere but since you don’t have any of the facts I would love to know how you would actually make that point. Please stop writing to my email. You have a blog why don’t you respond there? If you weren’t an intellectual snob you could actually come down off your throne and just live and let live and enjoy the moment.

  23. longbench Says:

    To be honest, this is one conversation I am not enjoying at all. All yuh really need to get your knickers untwisted. This is not that serious people!!!


    Rohan – why are you still here? You don’t agree with me AND you now reduced yourself to name-calling because you don’t value my ability to think for myself. Every hoe have dem stick a bush, don’t it? It don’t look to me that this blog is your stick.

    Jdid – yep, I remember when he acted like a jackass. Since the Chicago Bears won the superbowl many years ago, young black male athletes have been constantly upping the ante about what kind of antics they can get up to when they win any competition. It was funny once or twice, now, even with the Jamaican twist, its just annoying.

    Nearlnormalized – my opinion have no bearing on nothing, not even Usain. I can’t let him or stop him from doing what he does. Full stop.

    Citizen Cane – maybe you should read my earlier comments.

    PLEASE – either somebody say something new or I am shutting down this conversation – the equivalent of hanging up the phone. This is very tiresome.

  24. Rohan Says:

    Your dates are pretty spot-on. 1968 at the Mexico Olympics Tommy Smith made his black power protest. 1973 was the Rumble in the Jungle with Ali and Sonny Liston so that might be the occasion you are thinking of.

    Trash talking as an activity is not limited to black men. The Aussies call it sledging and any cricketer can tell you they don’t mess around. I’m trying to think of other sports where one might see such a celebration as you’re thinking of. Football – these days since they frown upon taking off the shirt no one really does that anymore but most players do find ways to express themselves ie somersaults, different poses. Last season in the English Premier League when Arsenal were playing Man United Nani of Man U was juggling the ball on his head up the field. There was a big to do about it because a lot of players thought he was trying to show up Arsenal. Which he might have been or might not have been (it happened pretty quickly) but the truth was well he’s a bit of a showoff and he’s apt to do those things. Same thing for Bolt he’s extremely confident in himself, he might be as you say arrogant. He’s approachable though so that might put a kosher on that argument. To me he just seems confident. And truth be told in top athletes in all sports there’s usually some measure of confidence bordering on arrogance sometimes. One might argue this is part of the reason the US as a sporting nation is so successful, the concept of losing is foreign to them. Some people like that. Some don’t.

  25. Stunner Says:

    This is my response to DuttyBwoy’s response to your post:

    “There will always be the hating argument, truth is, whatever you do you can’t please everyone. He is somewhat flamboyant in his behavior, but these antics seem to make him less nervous and psychologically intimidates his opponents when they see his confidence. No matter what, he is doing damn good!” At least he didn’t stay calm like Asafa and choked under the pressure… no disrespect to Asafa.

  26. duttybwoy Says:

    he was up to the same thing today,but not as much.

    Long Bench I hope you are not taking my post personally. We just have a simple disagreement and as i said before I started the discussion right here with you even before I wrote about it, I even agree with you somewhat. I realize this is getting more attention than I had imagine and I am a little bit surprise, if you want me to take down that post or edit it referring to you tell me.

    As i said before I love to read your blog especially when you write patios and you have a good knowledge of things. That doesn’t mean we can not disagree and say how we feel. We have a discussion thats all.

  27. shaista Says:

    I’m working on a BBC World Service Radio programme World Have Your Say where we are focusing on Bolt and his celebrations. We are asking the question: Is there a bad way to celebrate winning an Olympic gold medal?
    I would be interested in speaking to anyone out there with an opinion! The programme goes out tonight at 6pm London time so I need to hear from you asap. Please email your contact number to me at:


  28. longbench Says:

    Hey DB: No, no hard feelings, not even soft ones :-). If me did bex, yuh wouldn’t ‘ear fro’m me all now. I like the way you handled yourself vis-a-vis our exchange; you did raise some legitimate issues, and based on the information you gathered, you are right about the ulterior motives that drive some of the criticisms you pointed out. My criticism was limited to the before and during performance; frankly, I felt cheated by that 100 m run. On the other hand, I TOTALLY loved the 200 M. He looked like he was giving it all he had, just like his other teammates; that’s what I have come to expect from olympians whether they come first or last, not skylarking (I saved my bloodpressure by muting the TV and washing some clothes just before the race started; that way I would only see the race itself, not the pre-race antics. The little I saw was just overdone.) But I didn’t touch that distinction because I felt the issue was already being overblown, and me really neva inten’ fi de argue wid nobaddy else bout dis. Yuh nuh si seh a tree – 3!! – lines mi gi di ‘hole ting pon mi blog!

    Now, ’bout dem odder mad’ead one deh whe’ come pon fi yuh blog come beat up dem ches’. All me cya’ seh is, I have seen them in action before, but it is surely exhausting to have to be on the receiving end of the judgments and to have to respond to some blatant misrepresentations of my point of view. Like you, I totally didn’t see this avalanche coming, or I would have been more prepared. But, this is the world of blogging; if you put someting out deh, any tree cya’ play!

    I say let the conversation stand as a record of how hot-headed we are about the things that matter to us. Plus, I bet your blog has never had so much traffic since you started! Mine neither! Win-win!

  29. hustleandfloe Says:

    I know I’m late but wouldn’t write if I didn’t think there was something to add. I appreciate the fits and turns here as it revealed a bunch about perspectives associated with race, culture, and whatnot.

    I have worked with MVP track club in Kingston, Japan, US and Europe. Good dudes and women from the coach on down. But I’m from the U.S. and my context is one where I DO feel like seeing a kid get his block knocked off when he dances after just returning a kickoff (american football) 20 yards. I mean, yeah, you did something – your job.

    I mention that just to say that when I saw Bolt it didn’t occur to me, even in that lens, in the least to be anything but genuine. Didn’t seem self-serving. His competitors, Crawford included, all tipped hats on global tv – with big smiles. To me, it looked black and not excessive. By black I mean, no, we ain’t gully creepin, but only a brother could glide through the way he did. That’s diaspora juice.

    Besides, would anybody, despite hundreds of personal testimonies contrary call him an egomaniac?

    That’s not to say that many won’t perceive it as arrogant. But you should know that the most vocal ones look like they have big overlap with those who see him not as realizing a multi-year trajectory of performance but rather as a Jamaican speed freak with a fast-twitch supergene common on the island that his training now takes advantage of. You may believe that too …but ain’t no proof nowhere to trump hard, smart work and culture of sprint.

    [You’d be shocked to read what they say. I write on it here: “…Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Jamaican Cohort all Speed Freaks With Mutant Fast-Twitch SuperGenes!”]

    I believe that certain gaps in cultural understanding are permanent due to unwillingness to remove prejudicial lens. Black folks in this country won’t likely ever be understood when we dance a jig on some good news. But that’s cool. It ain’t for anybody else anyway.


  30. longbench Says:

    h&f: thanks much for your contribution!

    I still say finish before you celebrate.

    On the other matter about the seeming permanence of cultural chasms between black folks and Others: yes, for sure, and becomes more entrenched everyday. I’m not making any claim that Usain is an egomaniac; there’s no evidence to suggest that. What’s interesting to me is that, in the aftermath, Usain has been claiming that people came there expecting a show from him, not just athletic performance, so he was just obliging. Hmph. Whatever.

    As I noted before, for these kinds of events, I am far more interested in the athletics and the sheer awesomeness of how people push their bodies to all kinds of limits. Unbridled sincere celebration – I’ll take that in whatever form it comes. Hijinks to make oneself appealing? Nope. I’ll continue to mute and turn off the TV if necessary.

  31. longbench Says:

    h&f – I am not at all surprised by the racist sentiments underlying the description of Usain as a “specimen” and a bundle of freakish supergenes.

    What has been completely dumbfounding are the similar efforts of Jamaican scientists to prove that black people, and Jamaicans as a particular group of black people, are genetically predisposed to athletic success and built for speed. It is as if the long, distasteful history of 19th and 20th century racial science didn’t exist where black bodies were constantly being investigated and scrutinized for an explanation of their “difference” and inherent inferiority. The “yam theory” is being taken seriously by far too many people; that’s frightening to me. What was supposed to be a joke is not so when it encounters Jamaican ethnocentrism. What to do…

  32. hustleandfloe Says:

    Agree – always, always finish before you celebrate. no disagreement ever on that. I just think what trumps that in this case the spontanaeity of the celebration. you saw boy in that 200m right? I think he was conscious of the maxim.

    …and I knew the world wasn’t built to handle the Trelawny yam! I first saw it and said, uh oh here we go.

    Oh well, may as well start sellin ’em to slow kids worldwide, complete with Olympic gold packaging.

  33. Annie Paul Says:

    Hey LB,

    wow, belatedly taking in this discussion! thoroughly enjoyed it too. btw what Jamaican scientists are you referring to? genetically predisposed to athletic success? what century do they think this is?

  34. Long Bench Says:

    Annie: When I got a whiff of the ‘research’ in the Gleaner some months back, I thought I had died and gone to a very lonely white supremacist part of hell. Here is the article I’m referring to:

    You can’t say that your esteemed colleague Errol Morrison doesn’t have good timing; he and his study partners have been getting much attention lately based on a paper he published:

    Of course, given that many folks are very interested/invested in proving this link between black people and this athletic gene, the web has been alight with all kinds of commentary. See, for example,

    A useful response to Morrison’s work is located here:

    This is definitely worth a whole blog entry.

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