5 August 2012 9:41pm – a moment of inspiration

© Guardian












Last night Usain St. Leo Bolt took a huge step to writing his name into the history books as a legend of sprinting by winning the 100m final at the London Olympic Games.

And in doing so he has ensured that Basil Ince, author of Black Meteors, will need to write a post-script to his book pretty soon.

Black Meteors – The Caribbean in International Track and Field

Black Meteors is a fascinating book. I really enjoyed reading it, although I would say that the way the book is written would seem to lend itself to a style of reading that I will call ‘dipping-in-and-out’ rather than necessarily reading it from cover to cover. It is quite statistical in places.

But I think that what I enjoyed most about the book is that it supports what I believe about running and more than that, excellence in all areas: that motivation, opportunity and self belief are the crucial ingredients that need to be added to genetic good fortune and the will to work very, very hard, to create greatness.

If you want to get hold of this book – and if you are an athletics fan and a student of performance then you really should have a copy on your book shelf – then you can contact ANTHONY ZURBRUGG/ GLOBAL BOOK MARKETING Ltd/ Tel/Fax +44 [0]20 8533 5800 99B Wallis Rd, London, E9 5LN. (UK customers may call at local rate  – 0845 458 1580). It really is worth getting a copy and please let me know what you think.

The ingredients required to win Olmpic gold in 9.63 seconds

Ince’s book describes a pattern familiar to those who have studied patterns of performance and excellence and which will be well understood by anyone who has read The Goldmine Effect by Rasmus Ankersen (who I interviewed for this blog – you can read that interview here) or Bounce by Matthew Syed. There was a point in time when Caribbean athletes – in the shape of McDonald Bailey, the Trinidadian who held the 100 m world record at 10.2 seconds between 1951 and 1956 and Arthur Wint who was the first Jamaican Olympic gold medalist, winning the 400 m at 1948 Summer Olympics in London – started to make a mark on athletics and enter the world of global sporting dominance.

From that point the seed of possibility was sown and other athletes in the Caribbean looked at what Bailey and Wint were achieveing and started to believe…

While the self-belief started to build, the motivation for runners to try to elevate themselves from the poverty that was common in the Caribbean in the 1940s and 1950s (and really persists to this day) was in place. And the opportunity to train hard and consistently was provided by the warm weather conditions.

From tiny acorns great (and fast) oak trees grow

Fast forward 50 or 60 years and Bolt and Blake reaped the rewards of a culture of sprinting that has developed in Jamaica based on all I believe has happened to create a hot-bed of high performance.

That is not to take anything away from all the work that Bolt and Blake has done to become the sprinters they are today. But hard work is only part of it – motivation, self-belief and opportunity are also required.

Which brings me to my favourite subject. How do we use the amazing things we are seeing in east London to motivate young people to make sport part of their lives, believe in what they are capable of and find more great athletes in the UK and around the world? My friend and mentor Charlie Dark (www.twitter.com/daddydark) asked the same question on twitter and I believe that there are a few things that are required, including but not limited to:

  • making amazing performances reachable: demystifying the incredible into small steps that everyone can attempt.
  • teaching young people to embrace failure and know that not succeeding is just a step on the road to being greater than they ever thought possible.
  • bringing young people together to discover sport in an environment rich with support, competition and positivity.
  • facilitating and supporting experienced and qualified coaches and mentors to work with young people.
  • using education to help young people understand the benefits of hard work and long-term goals.

I believe that Ennis and Farah and Bolt and Rupp and Blake and all the other amazing athletes we are watching were not born great. They were born with the potential to be great – but in that they are no different from everyone else in the world – and they used the opportunities they had and a determination to work hard, to turn that potential into a reality. Simple really.


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