Usain St. Leo Bolt

Chancellor, forgive my unorthodox start, as I cut to the chase and allow the ‘big man’ to speak for himself:

Bang! The moment the gun went I checked out my rivals as I popped the blocks, glancing left and right to see whether they’d got out before me. It was just a quick scan of the area as I made the first step in lane four, but Thompson and Walter Dix had got away quickest, blocking my view of Asafa who was in lane seven. My reaction time was seventh quickest of the eight finalists, but as I completed my first stride, I was right up there with everyone else, and the second step I was ahead and thinking ‘Got it.’ I wasn’t thinking world records, just feeling the happiness of winning that gold medal. I eased up, stretched out my arms and was still looking to my right as I thumped my chest and crossed the line. I didn’t see the clock- or notice that my lace had come loose and I could have tripped over.

And thus, Chancellor, is history made, as Usain St Leo Bolt, greeted with adulation from the thousands in the Bird’s Nest of Beijing, took off his already loosened spikes, ran his victory lap with the black, green and gold draped around him and posed for the cameras in the now unforgettable, irreplaceable pose of

arms outstretched, legs apart like a javelin thrower, neck arched, ‘to the world’.

‘To the World’, Chancellor, from Coxeath, near Sherwood Content in Trelawny; as rural a part Jamaica as one can possibly get, on the very outskirts of the indomitable cockpit country, where the maroons resisted British domination with the help of the impenetrable terrain. Usain Bolt was born here in 1986, moving on first to the Piedmont Basic School, Waldensia Primary School and William Knibb Memorial High. In primary school his prodigious talents were already on display and he won his first cup for racing in grade four. But after being picked for the parish primary school team he discovered at the national championships that there were many others faster than he. And even though he received an athletic scholarship to William Knibb, it wasn’t until late in his high school career that he began to train seriously.

In a country with a history of high performing athletes, the sign that Bolt was, perhaps, special, was the 2002 World Junior Championships held in Kingston. Bolt won the 200 metres, setting a world age group record and becoming at age 15 the youngest-ever gold medalist at that level. The path beyond was not always easy. In 2004, he set a new World Junior record of 19.93 seconds in the 200m at the Carifta Games in Bermuda; however, in 2005, he qualified for the 200m at the World championships in Helsinki, but failed to get a medal. In 2007 he got silver medals in the 200m and 4X100 metres relay. In 2007, his coach decided to allow Usain, who had previously focused on the 200, to run 100m sprints. In May 2008 in only his second international attempt at the highly competitive 100m, he broke the world record held by his compatriot Asafa Powell with the time of 9.76 seconds.

And then came Beijing, where Usain, now rechristened Lightning Bolt, broke his own 100 metres record, shattered the seemingly unbeatable 200m record set by Michael Johnson at the 1974 Olympics in Atlanta with a time of 19.3 seconds and played a pivotal role in the winning Jamaica 4X100m squad, anchored by his compatriot Powell with yet another World Record.

Now let us wheel, Chancellor and come again, to the 2009 World Championships in Berlin, where the now celebrated sprinter smashed his own times in both events, setting new world records of 9.58 seconds in the 100metres and 19.19 seconds in the 200m.

Chancellor, I pause as I must for breath as Lightning Bolt is still a work in progress and let him speak once more, this time from Berlin, with Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell on the blocks beside him:

In two strides I’d got the jump on Tyson and was ahead of him. Coming up out of the drive phase I could feel him on my shoulder, but he wasn’t in my direct eye line and I was pulling away. With ten metres left, I’d got it but what was the time going to be? Wow, 9.58…I’d have to make do with a gold medal and a world record.”

Chancellor for his outstanding prowess as a globally triumphant athlete at the highest level; for his enormous contribution to the pride and self-confidence of a generation of Jamaican and Caribbean young people, by confirming that with talent and dedication we can be the best in the World, I invite you, by the authority invested in you by the Council and Senate of the University of the West Indies, to confer upon Usain Bolt the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

Brian Meeks
Professor of Social and Political Change
Director, Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies
November, 2011