London, Aug. 7: At the official party at Jamaica House, an old man in a tracksuit looked as proud as all the rest celebrating the double delight of a collective claim to the fastest man on earth and half a century of independence.
Usain Bolt had won the 100-metre sprint on Sunday and Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of independence fell on Monday. Dressed head to toe in green, gold and black, the old man blended in with all the other compatriots at the venue in O2 Arena, the sprawling entertainment complex in London.
It turned out that he was an athletics coach. Or rather, he used to be. His son, Claude Moseley, was once the British high-jump champion, a contemporary of Daley Thompson and Sebastian Coe, whose talent for sailing over two-metre rails made him the star of Haringey Athletics Club.
Then, one night, that son was stabbed in the stomach in Brixton, the south London district that hit the headlines in 1981 for race riots.
His lung was punctured, his face sliced. “That was his athletics career over,” said his father, also called Claude, as thousands thronged the jerk chicken stalls and Red Stripe stands in southeast London. “He went off the rails, got in with the wrong crowd.”
That crowd was the Adams Family, or the A-Team, as their notorious empire was known in the London underworld.
The talented athlete turned drug dealer. In 1994, suspected by the crime bosses of skimming money from the profits, Moseley’s 31-year-old son was stabbed through the back with a samurai sword. The gang’s chief henchman, who was acquitted of his murder after a key prosecution witness refused to give evidence, later vanished.
Rumour was that his remains lie buried under the North Greenwich arena, where Moseley stood yesterday browsing the Bolt-theme merchandise on sale.
About 3,000 people descended upon the venue for the official party. The turnout was so large that the organisers had to squeeze half of them into an overflow room where they watched a succession of dignitaries sing the sprinter’s praises from a giant screen.
Around Moseley, young girls flashed curled acrylic nails, painted in national colours. Beefy guys wore T-shirts, declaring: “Everybody Loves a Jamaican.”
Grandmothers blew their whistles and sang along to the unofficial anthem of Ring the Alarm. On their nation’s 50th birthday, their boys, Bolt and Yohan Blake, had proved again that they had the lead in speed. And, thanks to Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, they could now boast the world’s fastest woman too.
“My friends are jealous,” said Nikesha Waters-Morrisson, 19, an architecture student. “Everyone wants to be a Jamaican. This is the best culture to be.”
“I’m 52,” Clint Walker said. “I’ve been through the race riots. Now we are seeing the full turnaround. The world can see our talents.”
But for Moseley, who left Jamaica for north London’s Enfield in 1961, Bolt’s 100-metre win has awoken something much more personal than simply national pride.
The 72-year-old gave up coaching after his son was murdered. Athletics lost its joy. Every so often, he would bump into an acquaintance from the old days. They would suggest that he should come back; he would politely decline their invitation.
“I dropped out. I was in mourning. I kept away from the club, from athletics, for a long time. I just never went back. It brought back memories.”
But yesterday, Moseley said, he felt something that he had not felt for a long time. “Bolt did us proud. After seeing that, you go to bed and you sleep well. You wake up with a zing, and want to go for a run,” said the former lab technician at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
“The way I’m feeling now, if someone grabbed me, and said Claude, we’re going back, I would. I needed someone to pull me out there.”
That someone was the Olympic champion.
“I thank God for Usain Bolt. Athletics has always been dear to me. But only now has it all been brought back,” added Moseley, beaming. “I’ve got the bug now. I want to see what’s happening now. I’m going to see if I can get involved again. Yes. I want to get back.”
Of course, he knew all about the aim of the London 2012 Games to inspire a generation. He didn’t expect it to be his generation.