WE WERE ALWAYS THE DISAPPOINTMENT: NOT LEVERN!
No doubt the 2016 Olympics offered countless lessons but none clearer than that nothing beats a try but a fall. After years of gruelling training and preparation, Levern Spencer made history this month by becoming the first Saint Lucian to make it all the way to the Olympic finals. With millions looking on, she set out to make the jump of her 30-something life, untold pressures be damned. She seemed determined enough as she ran up to the bar and then, just as she was expected to leap into the air and over the bar . . . well, something unexpected happened. Levern bowed dejectedly under the bar. Twice!
Nerves? Levern was no neophyte. She ranks pretty high among world-class high jumpers. But suddenly, before the eyes of the world, she appeared amateurish. What could possibly have gone wrong? Why did she fall so far short of the miracle that so many at home prayed for? A commentator at Saturday’s event referred to Levern as a local hero—but that was before the leap that went nowhere. That she had nevertheless placed sixth in an Olympic event was not nearly enough to stay the criticism that followed her less than successful performance. It was as if the earlier efforts that had contributed to her hero status, if only at home, had never happened.
Soon determined nationalists were all over the media radio offering their congratulations on her valiant if futile efforts in Rio. It wasn’t long before discussions progressed to attempts at dissecting the athlete’s performance, even though none who called seemed to have any evidence to support their pontifications! One caller to Newsspin opined that Levern’s efforts lacked the kind of “grit, determination and hunger” evident in her opponents. He wondered if the problem could have something to do with where she came from, “a small island thing”; a mental block that prevented our most talented from realising their true potential. It was something “to look into” he suggested.
There was no mistaking the voice that followed: “I want to say I don’t give a damn about what Levern did in Rio; it was nothing short of heroic. That was not my initial thinking, however. Like your previous callers, I was disappointed by what I saw on TV . . . But I’ve changed my mind. I know what it’s like to be the only black guy on a stage, before an all-white audience, at a time when only white was right. That I overcame does not begin to be half the story. And until you’ve stood in Levern’s shoes you have no idea how it feels to be taking on the world—all on your own!”
Levern has herself publicly acknowledged her disappointment. She told reporters in Rio she had expected much more of herself after training so hard in preparation for the Rio Games. The caller to Newsspin brushed aside her televised regrets. “She ranks sixth in the world right now,” he went on. “We should concentrate on that. Lip service has no place here. There are kids all over with the DNA to be ten times better at age 15 than Sammy was at that age. Will they be discovered in time to turn them into stars? Is anyone scouting for such talent in this country? We are afflicted by a national disease that forces us to see Derek Walcott as a tourist board salesman. Walcott got the Nobel for his writing. It’s up to us to profit from the fact that he is one of us, lives among us, regardless of his reputation world-wide.”
It turned out Rick Wayne was just getting warmed up. He had won his several world titles at a time when blacks had to be twice greater than their white opponents if they dreamt of gold. His was the voice of experience.
“The young women who set out to represent us at overseas pageants such as the Miss World and Miss Universe have no idea what awaits them at venues in Vegas or in the Philippines. A beautiful face and killer figure are not nearly enough to place them in a winning position. Most of the other contenders, those from the bigger countries in particular, have been at it from age seven—with support from parents, friends, sponsors and advisors. They have learned by the time they arrive at the Miss World stage that winning is everything. That their lives, the future they envisage, depend on winning the title in contention. There is no room among such psyched-up competition for insecure candidates, candidates with only the Miss Saint Lucia title under their belt.”
“I don’t know too much about Levern’s career over here,” he said finally, “but I know such training facilities as we have here are relatively mediocre. There is little encouragement for young athletes. Where would Levern be today had she not moved overseas? Instead of heaping our highest honours on such as the mysterious character Gilbert Chagoury, we should be paying more attention to such deserving people as Levern Spencer—not spitting all over her with our useless lip service.”
Rick Wayne observed this week that Levern Spencer was far more deserving of the Saint Lucia Cross than the notorious Gilbert Chagoury!