Grenada's Kirani James and the absent flag
By Everton PRYCE
Thursday, September 08, 2011
The spice island of Grenada has given to the world, in the person of teenager Kirani James, a budding world-class athletic star. James won his country's first ever gold medal in world championships athletics in the 400m final in Daegu with gladiatorial determination. The Usain Bolt lookalike threw his country of 110,000 inhabitants into a whirlwind of joy and frenzy - very much like Bolt did for Jamaica in Beijing and Berlin - when he pipped race favourite, American La Shawn Merritt, with admirable calm and composure beyond the gift of his 18 years.
His winning time of 44.60 seconds, we now know, is not only a personal best for the new world champion, but is also the fastest time in the world so far this year for the one-lap event, earning him the enviable title of the third youngest Athletics World Champion in history on Earth. Again, in Bolt-like fashion, this extraordinary accomplishment materialised on the world stage around the time of his impending birthday: he won his world title two days before reaching age 19.
And no one who heard James deliver himself in post-race interviews for the international press could fail to notice the supreme self-assurance of the Caribbean's newest international (male) track star behind our own 21-year-old Yohan Blake. His insistence that he ran to win gold for his country, family and friends - in that order - reaffirms the pride, fixity of purpose and sense of place that is crucial to our psychic redemption as a region from the experience of slavery and colonialism.
That this sense of confidence and pride in the ability of James - and his fellow countryman Rondell Bartholomew - to win gold at the World Championships was undervalued by Grenada's athletics sporting body and Ministry of Sports, calls for further commentary.
It was plain for all to see that after spectacularly winning the 400m race, both athletes could be seen looking around the stadium expecting to have their nation's flag made available to them, to facilitate the customary (and expected) celebratory victory trot - in the same manner as the flag-bearing second and third place winners in the race were doing. Were it not for the hoisting of the Grenadian flag during the medal ceremony for the race, courtesy of the Championships' organisers, the global television viewers' interest in Grenada would have been even more severely restricted at a moment in track-and-field history when it ought not to have been.
Was this a case of oversight on the part of the Grenadian authorities? Clearly, it was. Should it have happened? Definitely not! James, given his age, has dramatically bolstered the name and image of Grenada on the world stage in a positive way, matched only by the winning ways of internationally renowned Grenadian racing-car driver Lewis Hamilton. He has, furthermore, opened up endless possibilities for the small island Caricom state in the areas of sports in general and athletics in particular, not to mention tourism. The Grenadian government should have planned for this eventuality way in advance by expending the necessary resources to ensuring that "Brand Grenada" received maximum international exposure at the Championships as part of a larger strategy of national economic development.
How ironic that James's mother and brother found it propitious to drape themselves in a "huge" national flag as they celebrated his victory in his hometown of Gouyave, watched by none other than the country's prime minister in the company of the minister of sports. James and Bartholomew's restrained embarrassment about the absent Grenadian flag(s) at the World Championships, tell us that they - as representatives of ordinary Grenadians - are way ahead of their leaders in knowing what is truly needed and when. Such symbolism as the waving of a national flag is ignored at our peril, for it carries great meaning to a group of people that have produced some of the most resourceful and creative beings our region has ever known.
We owe it to future generations to take the accomplishments of youngsters like Kirani James very seriously, for they are involved in creating out of the raw material of talent a process of redemption, defined as a creative process of self-reliance that needs to be embraced by all who exercise leadership.
Caribbean superstar athletes are all legatees of the proverbial cane-piece; and in addition, are people of action in more positive ways than they are given credit for. They have demonstrated to the world that they are capable of the discipline, sustained application and hard work that people of their class are usually said not to have; and are quite capable of patriotism and a sense of civic responsibility despite the continuing disrespect meted out to their kind by leaders in societies that are still insecure and yet to find themselves.
In celebration of his victory, I say, welcome Kirani James to the pantheon of exemplary Caribbean athletic stars - flag or no flag!