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Friday, Aug. 22, 2008

BEIJING POSTCARD

Jamaica basks in Bolt's achievements


BEIJING — Technical difficulties prevented Olivia Grange, the Jamaican minister of information, culture, youth and sports, from sharing one of her most cherished e-mails with a worldwide audience on Wednesday night.

Thirty minutes after Usain Bolt set a world record of 19.30 seconds in the men's 200-meter final at National Stadium, Grange was surrounded by about 30 reporters who listened to her jubilation over Bolt's accomplishments. She also told them a Jamaican had e-mailed her a new reggae song he had made dedicated to Bolt — and no, it wasn't Sean Paul's latest tune.

"Someone sent me a song they just made," were her exact words. One reporter asked her if the song is 19.3 seconds long. Everyone laughed.

Grange said her cell phone battery was low and she couldn't figure out how to play the song yet. She made a promise, though. She planned to let reporters hear the tune on Thursday.

"I'll find a way to play it tomorrow when he gets his award," a giggling Grange said, her rich Jamaican patois sprinkled with glee.

Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding was not spotted in the mix zone by this reporter. He did, however, show up in the conversation. Asked if Golding will have anything special planned to honor Bolt, specifically, a national holiday, Grange responded by saying, "I think he'll declare one." She then reminded the note-takers that she's a minister but not the prime minister.

What does Bolt mean to Jamaicans?

"He's an inspiration to our youth and our young people," Grange said. "We will have many more Usains in the future."

Reporters kept peppering Grange with questions about why Jamaica, a tiny nation, is a big success story in the sprints at large-scale international meets, picking her brain for little anecdotes and catchphrases. She enjoyed the spotlight, answering each question with detailed responses.

"He's a normal Jamaican," said Grant of Bolt, calling him a natural talent. "It's a tradition. We work hard and we eat healthy."

The typical Jamaican diet consists of healthy doses of green vegetables and fish. Another important element — clean Jamaican air — is part of the island's recipes for success, she said.

"Nothing can stop you if you really have the talent and train hard," Grange added as I was bumped in the back of the head by another reporter pushing forward to hear her words more carefully.

When I repositioned myself to hear the next set of remarks without getting elbowed in the ribs, Grange began speaking about Bolt's birthday. (He turned 22 on Thursday).

"He has given Jamaica a gift on his birthday as well," she said, rounding the win to the nearest day.



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