Kingdom's silver the real gold for usain
Published 16/01/2010 | 05:00
The phone rang at 4.0 in the morning. "Usain Bolt here. I hope I didn't wake you, but this is most urgent," said the fastest man in the world. He spoke in a slow, treacly, rum-dripping-on-raisin-ice-cream Jamaican drawl, but you could still sense the urgency in his voice.
"Billy, I need your help. I know you will not let me down. My life is about to change forever."
There was a pause and on the other side of the phone a parrot squawked a raucous chorus to a Bob Marley tribute band. Further away I could hear the crash of the surf on a coral beach, or was it a burst pipe? And I wondered if there was frost and short-cut builders in Jamaica.
"What's up, Usain?"
"I need you to get over here immediately, Billy."
"It's a long way. Like can you give me a hint?"
"You must trust me. This is the biggest decision of my life and I want you to reveal my story to the world."
The sports editor insists I always travel first class and as I sipped champagne and ate the last of the Virgin turkey, I wondered why Usain Bolt, the owner of more gold than the Central Bank, would want me to come to see him in Jamaica.
I had read that Bolt met with the Kerry team earlier in the week. It was, we were told, just a bit of fun -- a chance for the world champs in running and in football to get together on an informal basis.
From the cockpit I phoned a highly placed secret source within the Kerry camp.
"Gallaimh," I asked, "what's up with your man Bolt?"
"Top secret," replied the Currow hero, "but believe me when I say your trip is no wild-boar chase."
"It's goose, Gallaimh, goose."
"Lovely Billy. Nothing but the best of grub in first class."
Kingston was hot and boisterous. I was met by a chauffeur driving a limo with blacked-out windows so no one would recognise me.
An old man sat in the back seat of the car. He was wearing a white collar and a black suit, so I assumed he must be a priest.
"Let me introduce myself," said the old timer. "I'm Father Micheal Og O Muircheartaigh, a far-distant relative of Micheal the commentator."
I was right. Investigative reporters must stay alert when jet lagged.
The banana plantations went flying past even though they weren't moving. A woman picked a pineapple from a tree for free. A parrot alighted on the bonnet at the lights and used very bad language. The former chief executive of Fanny Mae offered to sponge the windscreen. Just across the street, in a shorn meadow, a fast bowler turned the wicket into cipins.
"I'm a Kerryman and I was Usain's teacher in St Brendan's Jamaica," said the ancient priest, "and you're only here because Con Houlihan couldn't make it."
Usain Bolt embraced me at the door of a huge colonial mansion.
"I am," he said, "simply a Kerryman." And the fastest man in the world broke down in a flood of tears that would refill Poulaphouca reservoir.
And then he told me his story.
"Father Micheal instilled in me a love of Kerry football. Do you see these? They mean nothing to me."
He pressed a pedal with his left foot and, as if by magic, a stainless-steel bin opened before him. He dumped his three Olympic gold medals.
I made a mental note to liberate the medals from the bin before I left, seeing as Usain was throwing them away anyway. I planned to sell the hoard on eBay, bar one for the mother's charm bracelet.
"Sonny Bolt watched the DVD of the Golden Years 10 times a week," said Fr Micheal, "and he always cried when Darby scored that illegal goal."
Usain took the story from there.
"I practised every day. Left-right. Left-right. Up against the gable end of the church. And I took the rebounds over my head to improve my high fielding.
"When the other boys were playing cricket, I was playing football. The only reason I got good at the running was that we had a cross neighbour and I sprinted like mad to stop the ball going over the low boundary wall.
"All I ever wanted was to play for Kerry. Tell me, is it true Mick O'Connell is seven feet tall?"
"And what about the gold medals, the millions in sponsorship?" I asked.
"I'd swap the lot for one All-Ireland medal. I just want to crease a Cork man and wallop the heads off a Tyrone man."
Fr Micheal looked on approvingly but then he gently corrected his pupil.
"It's not 'crease' but 'lay down a marker' and you mustn't say 'wallop' -- say 'get in their faces'."
We tucked into a simple meal of traditional bacon and cabbage served on a palm frond with Kerrygold and new spuds and the old priest told Usain that it was perfectly acceptable to temporarily renounce The Ten Commandments against Cork.
The limo called and an emotional Bolt bade goodbye to his mentor, who warned him to tell the reporters Kerry are fighting like mad over his introduction to the panel and that this is 'The Year of the Dubs'. The priest finished his parting words with "never cross the O Ses".
Bolt is here in Kerry preparing for today's McGrath Cup game against IT Tralee with No 30 on his back and frozen with the cold. The athletics world is aghast. Usain says the only race he'll run this year is the 100 yards at The Pattern Day in Knocknagoshel.
Kerry manager Jack O'Connor was guarded. "Young Bolt will have to battle hard to make the team. He finished in the top three in the sprints at training and if he knuckles down he could be the ideal replacement for Tadhg Kennelly."