The world can learn a lot from Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. The gold medalist in the 100-meter track event at the 2012 Olympics in London on Sunday, Bolt taught the world a little bit about respect over the weekend.
Yes, part of it was the fact he set a new Olympic record of 9.63 seconds in the event, silencing critics and earning the respect back of anyone who doubted him coming into the games after he was disqualified from the final of the men’s 100m at the World Athletics Championships in 2011. But it wasn’t his on-the-track performance, as impressive as it was, that taught us the most. It was his actions off of it, with most of the world’s cameras focused elsewhere, that showed us so much more.
A YouTube video destined to go viral shows Bolt being interviewed by a foreign television station while American female runner and 400m gold medallist Sanya Richards-Ross prepared to receive her medal on the podium Sunday. The faint sound of the United States National Anthem began in the background, and Bolt, stopping the reporter mid-sentence, turned away from the camera and faced the ceremony, standing stoically as he watched the American flag rise.
The reporter, taken aback by what transpired, said a few lighthearted words into the microphone, then also faced away from the camera following Bolt’s instructions and silently stood next to him, as the camera zoomed in on a serious, but respectful Bolt focused on what he thought should be the center of attention.
It was a moment that should be broadcast worldwide, not because it was an American flag being raised, but because it was a moment where rivalry, competition and bragging rights just didn’t matter anymore.
Some will say it was a publicity stunt, as much of Bolt’s fame and fortune comes from American fans and American endorsements. What better way to win us over again than to pretend to respect our flag? We’re not buying it. If it weren’t for YouTube, most of us would never have seen it, and if it weren’t for this column, some of you may never have either.
Bolt, away from the flashy dancing after winning, the silly faces during introductions and the celebrating with a lead while still in the race, follows a code most of us should too. The Olympic Games are an opportunity to bring the world together, despite each country’s differences. Bolt recognized that no matter where the winner is from, the athlete standing on top of the podium worked hard to earn a place there, and through all the adversity, pain, blood, sweat and tears, that moment of celebration deserves the honor of anyone in attendance.
That athlete, and the country it is from, deserves a moment of respect when its flag is raised.