Saturday, August 16, 2008

Usain Bolt's Chest Thump Heard Around the World

Can you remember a time in your career when you defied the odds, stayed calm under pressure and performed like you planned or dreamed? Even if most of us can think about a time when we were at our best, we probably didn't do it under the watchful, hopeful eyes of millions of people worldwide in the Beijing Olympics.

My regular blog readers know that I was born and raised in Jamaica and have lived in the United States for the last 22 years. Even though my husband, and I love dearly our adopted homeland, the United States, we can't help but feel a tremendous amount of pride in the way the sprinters from the land of our birth, Jamaica, have performed so far in the Beijing Olympics.

As I watch Usain Bolt, winner of the Men's 100M final sprint in Beijing, "thump his chest" before he even crosses the finish line in world record time of 9.69 seconds, I think I know exactly what he is saying to himself. He is saying, "Is me dat!"

Translated for my American friends, that chest thump and outspread arms, meant, "I did that".

Some of the announcers called it bragging. Those of us who know the history of Jamaica and the spirit of the Jamaican people, know that it is not about bragging. It's about reinforcing to one's self that barriers exist only where one sees them. It is about acknowledging his own accomplishment, whether the rest of the world notices it or not. It's a kind of self assuredness that says, "I am in control of my destiny and I can do this, whether or not the world thinks it possible." It's what I call a personal high five.

Of course as a career development professional, I can't help but be inspired by the way athletes like Bolt, perform under tremendous pressure. I wonder what kind of career advice we can glean from such a performance. We get nervous in, when we have to do presentations at work or when we get assigned the important accounts or projects at the office. I don't think we ever get over the initial jitters. Here, on the other hand, are professional athletes at the top of their game who are performing with the whole world watching. It certainly gives us pause to check ourselves as we put the pressures of our own jobs and our workplace stress in perspective.

The key point to remember is that when we see Jamaican sprinters, like Usain Bolt, perform well on the world's stage, we are actually witnessing the end result of hours of preparation and practice. What we see in a few seconds of brilliance takes place years after Bolt made the decision to put himself, his body and his credibility on the line to achieve a personal best and execute this amazing feat.

Bolt's body, by the way, is 6 feet 5 inches tall; well outside of what tradition has deemed good for sprinting. If that doesn't deserve a personal high five, I don't know what does.

Looking at Usain Bolt doing what he does, makes me think that career nirvana is indeed possible for all of us who are willing to do the hard work to prepare for our own big show.

It may not be the Beijing Olympics of 2008, but we owe it to ourselves to do what it takes to be ready!

How do you get ready? When was the last time you gave yourself a personal high five?

Additional Resources:

- Jamaican Athletics: A Model For the World - Written by Jamaican, Judge Patrick Robinson of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

- Jamaican athletes: Why do they run so fast?
Written by Jamaican attorney and former senator, Delano Franklyn


Shammy Ro said...

You are so right! Bolt accomplished this in the eyes of millions while we are afraid to show our own potential at our workplace. The fact that he was not traditionally built for the event was not enough to keep him back. With faith and self esteem we can achieve anything we put our minds to!!!

Totally Consumed said...

Not to take anything away from Usain Bolt, what he accomplished is truly amazing.

But given the choice between:
1) a world-record holder who thumps his chest, slows up at the end of each race and taunts his competitors;


2) a world-record holder who is respectful of the work and efforts of his competitors.

I'll take #2, any day of the week, for my team.

Anonymous said...

Its not a taunt. this is how jamaicans and possible caribbean people react at victory. We beat our chest bang things from pot cover to drums u name it.Embracing yourself doesnt mean lack of respect for others. People want him to act like a European where he should finish the race clap to himself and cry with a serious face , Bolt is being himself a true Jamaican and we are proud of that.

Marcie said...

Shammy Ro,

No question about the power of our own unleashed potential. Faith and self esteem are two good things to have in our tool kit when we want to do amazing things.


Marcie said...

Hey TC,

Could you have misread what you saw as "taunting"? You know, slowing up at the end of the race or "pulling up" as they refer to it in JA, is something you do when you are far ahead of the pack and do not to embarass others.

Let's chat again after the 200m. I am curious to see if his behavior changes.

Come again!


Courtney said...

I am an aspiring HR professional and was an aspiring Canadian Olympic track athlete and it is very interesting to hear individual's perspective that are not familiar with the culture of the sport. In the 100m especially, it is not uncommon at all for any athlete (whether they are Jamaican, American, etc) to celebrate & "show boat" and when I watched that 100m race, I didn't even think twice about Bolt's actions being disrespectful in any way. It simply brought a smile to my face because I also know that all athletes, at one point in their careers, have been at the bottom & are humbled by injuries. What is more interesting & what is not really being talked about is how Bolt acts off the track. Many of his competitors like & respect him for his fun & playful nature rather than a cold & unfriendly shoulder, for his smiles rather than some trash talking. He has fun even with all this immense pressure of having millions of people watching. He keeps things in perspective.

And you can't still question his character after today as he proved otherwise in the 200m final where he again won gold & broke the WR...running straight through that line (with some noticeable strain on his face), did a little dance, a little show, & then his competitor, an American, lifting him up congratulating him. Truly an amazing athlete and beautiful character to watch. He will be great for the sport! His attitude would be great for any business!

Dee said...

Usain's performance was awesome and typical of a young Jamaican man celebrating an unbelievable achievement. Who among us was not stunned at this amazing force? Who really saw this man taunting his competitors? C'mon the criticism is not sincere, particularly from those who have hailed athletes like the great Muhammed Ali. Yes he was the best to me too.

Did you see how Wallace Spearman embraced Usain? Have you heard Tyson Gay speak about him? Have you heard about his close frienship with Asafa Powell?

His competitors (barring a few Americans interestingly) know this is a fun loving awesome athlete who is simply the best.

Bravo Usain.

Reason Together said...

I stand corrected. Usain deserves the accolades and his supporters and countrymen certainly have a right to be proud of him.

To whomever my comments may have offended, I sincerely apologize.

kenpitts said...

He could have waited until he crossed the line, as he did in the 200m final.

Elsa said...

Thats simply not the first thing you do when you are in the moment and joyful. The man is an athlete not a diplomat. I laughed and cried with pride for him, a young man, drug free, at the top of his game celebrating his success honestly and exuberantly after years of hard slog. "Ah me dat" he said and if you knew where he came from, what that chest thump means in Jamaica, and how hard he worked you wouldn't mind one bit. The change afterwards comes from a man willing to learn and the fact that he adjusted for the 200 further emphasizes the honesty of his first response. I prefer this to artificial false modesty. "Tump yuh ches' breds!" You deserve it. And I am not a Jamaican.

Marcie said...


Thanks for checking in.

You are learning great lessons early in your career. When it comes to behavior in the workplace, culture cannot be overlooked both in the problem identification and the solution we come up with.


sandra said...

I could not care less quite frankly who is or is not offended by the chest thumping. Simply put there are ZERO explanations required for the behaviour. Secondly, the 100M is not his event per se and in his words all he wanted was the gold and not necessarily the WR. Detractors say what you want but the fact is this, 3GOLDS and 3WR, I would say the man-child is more than entitled to MAJOR chest thumping!!!

Dee said...

Thanks for stopping by Marcie.

He went on to make me feel even more proud. His team spirit, his cheering Asafa on, his continued appreciation of the crowd and his obvious determination to keep us on the map are in my view commendable.

I so wish he will continue to do well.

jcandiva said...

Thanks for this article. I am Jamaican American, and I certainly didn't find Bolt's celebration distasteful. A characteristic that most Jamaicans share is self-assuredness; a strong self-esteem. Don't try to put us in box. I didn't see the US complaining when they were winning and their athletes showboated; Usain doesn't even come close to their antics. Usain is young, happy go lucky, he worked hard, has battled back from injuries, and has represented himself and Jamaica well. Usain is an extremely modest and very respectful person. He has been a prodigy since age 15, and has certainly earned the right to celebrate. These naysayers are simply trying to get to him mentally. He understands the game. He is a natural talent, drug free,and good for track & field. Jamaica big up yuhself, and as we say to bad minded people, "wi a go tek weh wi self!"

dmtb said...

We wanted GOLD and we got GOLD.
Say all you want and do all you want, but remember in the end JAMAICA is PROUD of you and so are all the BOLT's around the world.

Anonymous said...

Bolt is, what the British would say, a character and the world needs more characters like him.

The Jamaican attitude to the Olympic Games is the right one and I have been rooting for all the Jamaican athletes throughout. They are a joy to watch.

Elliott Broidy said...

This is incredible.