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The Olympics: Lessons Nigeria Can Learn From Usain Bolt

“There’s no point!” A man crows next to me. In the dark lighting of the bar, his skin is dyed almost silver in the light of the television depicting the 2016 Rio Olympics 100 metre dash. The other occupants turn at his outburst and turn away, eyes bouncing back to the screen barely, as yet again Usain Bolt redefines history. “We all know he’s going to win anyway.” And it rings true: Bolt is an inch away from the finish line and yet the crowd is on their feet chanting his name, and when he finally reaches it, there is enough time for the crowd to boo Justin Gatlin who runs in three steps behind. The bar is silent, the absence of sound somehow louder than cheering could have been. “Jamaicans”, the woman nearby hisses, “they sha know how to train their people.” But no one responds; they are transfixed as Bolt grins at the camera the gold medal around his neck, the fastest man alive for the third time in a row.

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In three Olympic seasons, Usain Bolt has taken the world by storm with his record-breaking running time and redefines the very Olympics. His home country of Jamaica has reported a rise in tourism since Usain Bolt’s global victory in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics held in Beijing and London respectively, and the Commonwealth Games in Sydney, 2014; so large it’s been nicknamed the “Bolt bounce”. You can’t Google Jamaica without coming across an image of Bolt grinning with his trophy in hand or racing alongside Prince Harry. But rewind back five years and Googling Jamaica would have gotten you a holiday deal or another marijuana drug bust. The very national image of Jamaica from dancehall, rampant drug abusing, seaside to beach paradise had changed irrevocably all with one man with the ability to run.

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Nigerian shot putter, Nikki Okwelugo

This isn’t the first time victory at the Olympics has caused a global paradigm shift. Jesse Owens’s four-time Olympic gold in the 1936 games challenged and broke the Nazi party’s racist eugenics theories. Nicola Adams proved women could box as well as men winning the first women’s flyweight boxing gold medal in 2012. The Olympics has proven to be more than just a glorified sports competition; it acts as a global platform for countries and athletes alike to prove their worth, ideals and abilities in front of the whole world. It’s the world’s biggest global media covered event with every country desperate to represent itself in the best light. Everyone but ours.

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Nigerian sprinter, Seye Ogunlewe Jr.

With technological growth and the eventual birth and domination of social media, Nigeria’s global image has never been more tenuous with us ranked 33rd most corrupt country in the world as of 2015 on the Global Corruption Index. This association between Nigeria and corruption has only grown stronger with Britain’s ex-Prime Minister David Cameron referring to both Nigeria and Afghanistan as “fantastically corrupt and two of the most corrupt countries in the world”. Despite President Buhari’s outcry over this, we’ve done nothing to change this view. Our one chance at redemption, the 2014 London Olympics was met with abject failure with our contestants winning no medals, an embarrassment unseen since the 1960s Rome Olympics. This year seems to fare no better with Fidelis Gadzama, a part of the men’s 4×400 metre relay team that won silver at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games admitting in an interview with Newsweek: “I don’t think they will be medaling in this Olympics because the preparation was zero,” he says. “We will return empty-handed.” But the question lies in whether the lack of preparation is down to the individual athletes or the government.

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Fidelis Gadzama at the Sydney Olympics, 2000

Nigerian media took up arms in July when it was revealed that the Athletics Federation of Nigeria (AFN) informed several athletes they’d have to pay for their own flights to Brazil. Many relied on crowd funding, including 100-metre sprinter Seye Ogunlewe Jr. and shot putter Nikki Okwelugo. Equally, as of Tuesday, the Nigerian Football team were reportedly stranded in Atlanta because the football federation had not arranged a punctual purchase of tickets. Their arrival to Brazil was only further delayed when their flight was cancelled due to a payment dispute and the plane being too small according to the BBC. While President Buhari speaks of desisting “from acts that could dent the image of our great country,” Gadzama tells Newsweek magazine in an interview about “disciplinary problems” with funds “disappearing” and federation officials not even coming to watch the Olympics, just staying in their hotel rooms. Nigeria’s most vital public image the Olympics is in the hands of a government that is beginning to prove careless. With the drop of the naira and as the demand for Buhari’s impeachment political turmoil seems on the horizon, the upcoming Olympic categories have never been met with more apathy.

Nigeria Dream Team beats Denmark. To play Germany

But what is the Olympics if not a chance to rise above? Categories lie unexplored in the coming weeks, waiting to birth the next Jesse Owens, Nicola Adams or Usain Bolt. We watch with bated breath as the next legend is born for the whole world to see. And it may not be this year, or the next or the next. But like the slow beginning of a clap in a silent bar in Lagos, as Usain Bolt wins the gold yet again that eventually turns into a crowd cheer, hope grows in all of us and one day, we may bloom for all the cameras to see.

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Melissa MORDI is an English and Creative Writing student at the University of Kent with revolutionary ideals and no energy to complete them. She lives in Lagos with her family and a dog called Cat.

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