The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Kayra Wil­liams

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!

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