On your marks.

The inaugural IAAF World Relays, in Nassau, The Bahamas, has been my family’s point of focus since Friday. It was put on the calendar at Christmas and other important events have had to fall in line behind it. So, I missed the Jamaican National Amateur Golf Championships over the long holiday weekend. It would have been my first try, but I hope to get a chance next year. Move on. The weekend allowed the two sides of my life to coincide. Of course, my wife’s family was in full display. But, my Jamaican family got a good airing: one cousin was part of the Jamaican athletics delegation, and we hooked up with another cousin on the same side of our family, who’s been living in The Bahamas for about 20 years. Both sets met over an evening BBQ, which started late because of meetings for the Jamaican track team.

Major sporting events take a lot of organizing and it was nice to know that one of my wife’s family was behind much of the logistics of the IAAF event. Some if her friends were also involved in the daily running of the meet. I took a walk around yesterday, before the main raiders began, to take a look around the stadium. By chance, I bumped into my wife’s friend and she took me around the back room of the event. I explained to her that I try to understand what is going on. We looked at how sponsors’ guests were greeted and treated. We looked at the volunteers working. We checked how the volunteers were treated: they need food and water, and have parking issues, too. We looked at the local tv feed. I heard what the Junkanoo players were supposed to be doing, then we saw they were not doing that. Rather them, than this boy managing all of that. I rushed back to my seat just in time for the first main event.

I found myself sitting next to a very funny lady and her husband. We got into a banter because I was sporting my Jamaican colours. “You sure you’re in the right section?” Stuff like that. We moved past the friendly banter and talked a little about families. She was a sprinter back in the day; so was I. Her sons were also runners, now working. She told me her family name: that’s important for Bahamians, who link their names to the many ‘family islands’ and relish their connections to parts other than New Providence. She was ‘from Acklins’, she told me with a twist. I gradually understood what was that twist. As we talked more, it became clear that she was connected to my wife’s family, at least through a genealogical link to common friends. “Ask your mother in law if she knows Miss….?” she suggested. I did. She did. My new BFF smiled. She goaded me more. It was revealing. Her sons were friends of a younger member of my wife’s family. So, not went. My daughter and I had been given promotional tattoo stickers and I shared some with my new friend. I showed her how to apply it; she chose to out it on her arm. “I’ll never wash this arm again,” she said, “I can wash with one hand.” I quipped that this was a great opportunity for her husband to step up his game; the three of us rolled over laughing. She said she would put another tattoo on her other arm 😉 So. We went on.

The races were exciting.

Jamaican fans were in much evidence; many work and live in Nassau. They were there in clumps, including as part of their Bahamian households, if they were domestic workers. I had my whistle ready and was washing noise over the sea of Bahamians in which I sat. Day one had been stellar for Jamaica: a world record in the 4×200 meters relay, anchored by Yohan Blake, with no Usain Blake. ‘The Beast’ bared his really long nails for the photo opportunities. The team draped itself in the national flag. Jamaicans and Bahamians went wild. That’s how the night ended.

For day 2, the crowd expected more of the same. Jamaica’s prowess is renowned: “What do you put in that yellow yam? It’s organic?” I was asked, with some raised eyebrows. But, it was not to be coll runnings for the brethren and sistrin.

We made a total hash of the baton exchange in the fist leg of the 4×400 A final.

That’s the easiest handover, and it looked like simple lack of concentration. We were in lane 8, on the outside, and near the lead. Instead, baton on the ground, we were out of the race. The incoming runner held his head in his hands as his team mate tried to reduce what was now a gap of some 50 meters. I would not like to be in the team meeting later. I told people that Jamaica does not drop batons. We pull hamstrings. We run out of our box. But we pass the stick safely. The USA team has become notorious for relay foul-ups; they can keep that. Not us! The USA team win, which was their destiny. We could have come close. It’s history now that we were 8th.

The women’s 4×200 meters final was billed as the ‘Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce show’ by the announcer, Ato Bolden. I said to those around me that was a jinx. The women ran and the exchanges did not loom great, and the ‘Pocket Rocket’ trailed in third. Her gold and black hair, with red bow, looked lovely. The running? I mentioned that she’d been injured, recently. “No excuses!”was the cry around me. None given. USA won again. We would have had a stiff race with a stronger team, but no crying.

Last event of the night: the marquee event, the men’s 4×100. No Bolt, but Blake. No Asafa. But, the team had clocked 37.71 in the heats, for a world-leading time; Great Britain looked dangerous, with 37.93, winning their heat. No other team broke 38 seconds. We pulled lane 6. I did not like the vibes, after the less-than-inspired preceding relays. My palms were sweating. But, my whistle was ready. The start was faulty: France’s lead off man, wearing one black and one white knee-high socks, was injured, looked uneasy, seemed to step out of his blocks, he was shown the red card. Some Gallic arm waving followed, the event went on to the restart. Bang! We got an early lead and extended it with Weir on the second leg. The exchanges were safe; that’s all we needed. The baton went into Blake’s hand and he had a good lead, which he kept easily for the win in 37.77. Job done. Crowd went wild.image

We started to think about dealing with the exiting traffic. Rain started to fall softly. It soon became a downpour as we headed to the car. We sat and took our time, but I got bored and ‘turned Bahamian’, finding a dirt track parallel to the main road. We were past the jam in moments 🙂 We took my wife’s sister home, out west, grabbed a tub of peas soup, and headed back east to Paradise Island. We had our nightcaps.

All of our enjoyment had another side, of course. Economies like ours have developed depending on foreign visitors. The Bahamas has taken a lead, among the English-speaking Caribbean nations, with some prestige international events. PM Perry Christie baldly begged the IAAF to let his country have the event for more than another year; he knows the added revenue and activity, even for volunteers, is important. The hotels were packed over the weekend. It was a holiday in Jamaica, but also running into the US Memorial Day holiday, today. Visitors could stay a little longer. Teams came with more,this just runners. They were taken care of in their hotels, but they would be tempted to spend on duty-free items, on conch salads, on sky juice (gin, coconut water, and condensed milk), or just hang out, but think about coming back with friends.

I spoke with an American visitor in the breakfast line yesterday. He was in Nassau with his family, for the holiday weekend. He would not be playing golf here. But, he’d been here several times: repeat visitors are crucial. I touted Jamaica, with its great courses in the north coast. We exchanged card; I’d gladly host his in my country. We need his dollars, too.

The Bahamas has a better visitor package than Jamaica in that Nassau is compact and has great features, such as Atlantis. For visitors from America, a major benefit is that connections are many and varied. Returning, Customs is cleared in Nassau. Jamaica has its problem, not least of which is drug trafficking. The violent reputation of our people precedes us. Even Bahamians are leery of Jamaicans. We need to embrace that our good ‘brands’, such as our athletes, have to ward off our bad ‘brands’, like crime. One world record does not erase the chilling thought of a nation of murderers. We are all duty bound to work for our good brands and against the bad ones.

Bahamians are harsh on their own. The meet had started with a minor snafu: the microphone had delivered no sound when an IAAF official was making his speech. We could see his lips moving, but not a word heard. People waved their arms to get tech support. It came, eventually. Their athletes performed well and also messed up: baton drop by the women in the 4×400 heats, and the culprit did not seem rushed to pick it up and get moving again; another squad that was put together ‘last week’. They local crowd went berserk in the men’s 4×400 final. Their ace, Chris Brown, did not disappoint, and his 3rd leg brought the home team in leading. All were up, horns blaring, bells clanging. But, the USA clawed them back, and squeezed them into 2nd place. Initial disappointment. Eventual acceptance and joy.

The country will have a fillip for a few more days and other economic issues will slip from views a few more days. The financial weaknesses will come back: VAT is coming with little love, but it’s generated a hit song. That may be a first.

Jamaica will have to face its realities, too.

The other countries were not eclipsed, totally.

Kenya will go home with two world records and US$100,000. That’s not shabby. Little St. Kitts and Nevis ran out of its socks. All added to the thrills.

Those who did not qualify for the main finals got second chances in B finals. One such team, the Ukraine’s men’s 4×100 team, won the B event, and set a national record. I hope they take that back home with the excited joy they showed last night. Their country needs it.

I’m a great believer in sport as an important part of life balance. Playing it, of course, counts, but so too does watching. It releases stresses and lets emotions flow. Some take it too seriously. But, better to get passionate about something that be grey and flat.

The IAAF event was time out for many, but we need that to be able to thrash out our  life’s other issues.