The Jamaican Olympic Trials were a revelation.
Usain Bolt’s 100m defeat to his young training partner, Yohan Blake, came as a surprise. Blake’s commanding victory in the 200m was even more astounding. Bolt has shown chinks in armor in the century dash, owing to his inconsistent start. But in the half-lap sprint, the great Jamaican sprinter has been peerless.
Bolt en route to the 200m dash gold in Beijing. (Photo from Richard Giles)
The aforesaid losses to Blake and rumors of lingering injury, have pushed some athletics pundits to tag Blake as the prime candidate for Olympic sprinting glory.
Read: “London Olympics Preview – The 100m Dash”
Read: “London Olympics Preview – The 200m Dash”
Those views are not entirely baseless. On paper, the 2012 Bolt is a far cry from his 2009 self. The Jamaican champion’s 100m and 200m season’s bests are at 9.76s and 19.83s, respectively -light years away from his world records of 9.58s and 19.19s. Coming into the London Olympics, Blake is the world leader in both of the aforesaid events (9.75s and 19.80s).
True enough, Blake has what it takes to beat his compatriot. The 2011 100m World Champion (in the absence of a disqualified Bolt), is the third fastest in the 100m all-time list, behind Bolt and Asafa Powell. Blake has a personal best of 19.26s in the 200m a mark only bettered by Usain’s world record of 19.19s and is the only man who can challenge Bolt in the half lap sprint.
Powell, the former 100m world record, has the necessary tools edge out Bolt in the century dash. But the 30-year old has been a perennial underachiever in the major championships. Tyson Gay, the 100m and 200m World Champion from 2007, also enjoys the tag as a potential Bolt-beater. The oft-injured Gay is one of only two men to beat a post-Beijing Olympics Usain Bolt in the 100m (the other is, of course, Blake). Gay, recently recovered from a hip operation, owns the second fastest time in the 100m at 9.69s, behind Bolt’s 9.58s world record.
Blake (L), Gay (C), and Powell (R). (Photos from Erik van Leeuwen, Eckhard Pecher, and Jonas Witt)
Judging by the stat sheets and the results of the Jamaican Olympic Trials, a monumental collapse by Usain Bolt is in the offing.
I beg to disagree because of four important factors.
First, Bolt has the most experience amongst the four contenders. The Jamaican has won sprinting titles in Youth, Junior and Senior World Championship events. He has been competing at the highest level of sport since he was 15-years old. No other athlete, save for Russian Pole Vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva and New Zealand’s Shot Putter Valerie Adams, have shown such consistency amongst the different age groups.
And of course, Bolt is the defending Olympic Champion. Blake, Gay, and Powell have yet to win individual Olympic golds.
Second, Bolt is a freak of nature. Speed is a function of stride length and stride frequency. Bolt, with his 1.95m/ 6’5 frame, excels in both departments. No Olympic or World sprinting champion was as tall and quick as Usain Bolt.
Third, Bolt has been in similar circumstances before. As a talented youngster, Bolt owns the World Youth best and the World Junior record in the 200m. His transition to the senior ranks, however, was marked by injury and a seeming lack of focus. Despite being popular in Jamaica, he was an unknown outside immediate athletics circles. There was a lull in his career from 2003 to 2008, until the Beijing Olympics where he romped to three Olympic Gold medals.
Lastly, Bolt has the ability to dig deep. In the glitz and glamour of the short sprints, people tend to overlook the fact that Usain once excelled in the 400m dash in his younger days. As a 16-year old, the Jamaican ran 45.35s, the sixth fastest ever by a Youth athlete. Although Gay has a faster personal best than Bolt in the quarter-mile, the latter has the necessary championship pedigree in the event. In my opinion, his background in the 400m is what sets him apart from his competitors. It puts him in a vastly different mindset.
Because of his long legs, we don’t usually see Bolt get the fastest start in the short dashes. But once his pistons start firing in full throttle, the race is over – more often than not. Indeed, it takes guts and determination to snatch victory from behind.
Despite the snags of Bolt’s 2012 season, the London 2012 Olympics shall still be Usain Bolt’s one big sprinting party.