Amidst the amazing accomplishments of our athletes at the recently concluded Rio Olympics, Jamaica was rocked by the news that our darling Pocket Rocket, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, would be leaving the MVP Track Club at the end of the season. “What?!” “How?!” “WHY?!” “NOOO!!!” Those were my reactions, and I’m sure a lot of Jamaicans felt the same. This is the club that made her – and it wouldn’t be wrong to say she helped make it, too, as its first Olympic medallist; gold, no less. It was certainly a shock to the system.
What was not shocking was the immediacy with which folks concluded that there could only be one reason for Shelly’s decision to part from her longtime club – jealousy towards the newly crowned sprint queen, Elaine Thompson. Yes, the ‘badmind’ card was the first one drawn. The disease of ‘badmind’ is a national crisis. It’s reportedly worse than obeah, and even more life-threatening than AIDS or cancer. Jamaicans have mother woman capabilities when it comes to ‘badmind’ – they can read it in the faces of their neighbours, family members, friends and strangers, even if it has gone undiagnosed for years in the person under scrutiny. Many songs have been made about this Great Evil, warning the unsuspecting masses against contracting it and exhibiting its symptoms. In fact, entertainer I Octane has taken it upon himself to be a one-man anti-badmind brigade, like some kind of lamenting Jeremiah.
But I wish people would just pack it in, already. Why is it that the first thing that came to people’s minds was the assumption of jealousy? Where is the evidence of that? Shelly has had nothing but glowing compliments for her teammate. After being dethroned in the women’s 100m final, was she not there celebrating with Elaine – helping her with the flag, holding her shoes during the victory lap, and rightfully deflecting attention to the new champion in the photo-op moments? I saw a woman in ‘big sister’ mode, ensuring that her ‘little sister’ enjoyed her moment in the spotlight. And there was no tension between them in subsequent pictures and interviews. Elaine has always spoken highly of Shelly, and I, for one, have been given no reason to doubt the sincerity of their friendship.
Certainly, the timing of the news is unfortunate, and whoever decided to leak the juicy tidbit deserves a severe side-eye and possibly a box to the ears, because this could have seriously damaged team morale during the Games. It also helped many to jump to the most obvious conclusion, coming as it did right on the heels of Elaine’s victory. But the ladies’ coach, in his typical straightforward manner, has said he fully supports Shelly’s decision and has given his explanation: she hasn’t improved in form or time in the four years since she ran her personal best and national record of 10.70 seconds in the 100m. Coincidentally, Elaine equalled this time and record at the national trials earlier this year. In his most recent interview on the subject, he also said she had wanted to make some changes to her programme, which weren’t made, so she feels leaving is in her best interest.
But all of his explanations have only been met with ‘knowing’ “hmmms” as the jealousy narrative continues to run rife. You know what I think? People see what they want to see, and view the world through the lenses of their own personalities and experiences. So I’ve concluded that many are simply projecting their own proclivity towards badmind unto Shelly, and I wish they would stop, and just examine the facts as laid out by the coach.
Stagnation sucks, y’all. It stinks. Even if you’ve plateaued at the proverbial ‘top.’ Especially when you know you have something more within you, another level to reach. Shelly will be 30 this December, and like it or not, time is running down on her career. She has to hit that new level before it’s too late. I believe she should have clocked a few times in the 10.6-seconds range ages ago, and perhaps it is this frustration that has led to her decision. Plus, I’m sure she will want to retire in a couple of years and focus on a family and other personal and professional goals. Why shouldn’t she move on if she feels stuck?
Some might argue that Usain Bolt hasn’t PB’d since his world records in 2009, and has made no rumblings about switching camps, but anyone with sense would recognise that he hasn’t been in the same tip-top physical shape, and his injury woes have increased as he’s got older. Shelly, on the other hand, has been in great shape, but for the toe injury this year. In my mind, there is no reason she couldn’t have lowered her PB since 2012, considering all she’s accomplished in the interim.
I don’t know if there are other things percolating beneath the surface at MVP, as others have said or insinuated, but I don’t believe this preposterous ‘jealousy towards Elaine’ theory that people are pushing. If Elaine does have anything to do with her decision, I think watching her rise has refueled Shelly’s own hunger for that ‘more’ she knows she has to offer. Too many of us are satisfied with just getting by and can’t understand why someone in a comfortable position would rock the boat. Many would even cast such persons as ungrateful and greedy, and accuse them of acting like “dem more than we,” which is utter ‘badmind’ in my book. There is absolutely nothing wrong or selfish in knowing your worth and capabilities, and striving towards the next level.