Bolt and The Beast

Bolt and The Beast

Bolt and The Beast

The world record holder will not have it easy with compatriot Blake turning on the heat, writes Rajeev K

Maurice Greene, the self-proclaimed psychic of world athletics, has made his prophecy for the Olympic Games. The two-time world champion and former Olympic champion is certain that a tall sprinter, till recently known as the superman of world athletics, isn't a certainty to win the most prestigeous track event of London 2012.

Usain Bolt might have blitzed the tracks in Beijing and Berlin but his vulnerability and downfall was famously predicted by Greene ahead of the World Championships in Daegu last year. As it turned out, Bolt didn't even get off the blocks properly in the 100M final, allowing Greene to trudge around with an extra swagger in the South Korean city.

Greene should know a thing or two about sprinting. He was the master of all he surveyed in the late 90s and early 2000s. Gold medals in the World Championships in 1999 and 2001 punctuated his triumph at the Olympic Games in Sidney.

Every sprinter worth his salt covets the tag of world record holder to be counted among the greats and Greene held that honour too – his 9.79 set in Athens in 1999 being the standard before the Jamaican speed merchants arrived in full force. The American also ran the 100M in under 10 seconds a staggering 51 times in his career – a record that was broken only recently by Asafa Powell.

So when Greene says Bolt will find it hard to win the 100M in London, the comment cannot be discarded as trash talk from a man once called Motor Mouth. “I look at people, I analyse their races. He hasn't shown to me that he is in the shape that he was in 2008,” said Greene, before the conclusion of the Jamaican trials where Bolt received twin jolts from his compatriot Yohan Blake.

Genuine contender

With victories in the 100M as well as the 200M in Kingston, Blake has installed himself as a genuine contender for the 100M gold. And to stir the pot further, a niggle to the world record holder forced him to pull out of the Monaco Diamond League meeting on July 20. No explanations were forthcoming about the nature of the injury but it emerged that he had dashed off to Munich to see his doctor for a hamstring problem, making one thing a certainty – the sprinting scene for London isn't as clear as it was two seasons ago, or even a few months ago.

Flashback to 2008, August 16 to be precise. China's iconic venue, popularly called the Bird's Nest, witnessed Bolt making a mockery of the opposition on that night, slowing down nearing the finishing line and still blowing the world record away with a blistering 9.69 seconds. A year later, at the World Championships in Berlin, Bolt then revealed the full range of his talent, running through without relaxing and lowering his record to 9.58 — a seemingly impossible peak to surmount at this point in time.

Chink in armour

The two races, coupled with his world records in the 200M, hoisted the rangy Jamaican to a plane reserved for the truly extraordinary. Conventional notions of sprinting didn't seem to apply in Bolt’s case as his giant strides routinely trampled reputations and records in his path. Sceptics looking for a chink in his armour couldn't find anything while the officialdom was quick to embrace his endearing personality and extrovert nature to install him as the face of his sport. Invincible, he seemed, to his rivals and to the world.

The fall, though, was as swift as the rise. Daegu 2011 came as a big blot in the Bolt book — his quest for legendary status taking a bad knock with that false start in the 100M final. Pressure, awareness that the man in his next lane being in greater shape, or quite simply, a foolish attempt to tide over his starting trouble — whatever the reason might have been, Bolt was mortal once again. “I am not in tip-top shape but I am good enough to win,” Bolt had proclaimed when he arrived in Daegu but it was Blake who went back with the coveted title as the world champion.

In the months that followed Blake, has done everything to prove that his title-win wasn't a fluke. A 9.82-second dash in Zurich just after the World Championships showed the muscular 22-year-old meant business. A 19.26 burst in Brusells then announced the arrival of a true force in the 200M. The man who had serious ambitions of being a cricketer, the man who was nicknamed 'Beast' by Bolt himself for his appetite for hard work, was turning out to be the nemesis of the most famous athlete in the world. The events in the Jamaican trials then reinforced the belief that Bolt will have a serious rival to contend with in London.

Intriguingly, both Bolt and Blake are coached my one man and he has a simple explanation about Bolt's twin defeats in the trials. “Usain was competing in Europe, while Yohan trained at home. Usain will be ready in time for the Olympics,” said Glen Mills as inevitable questions on Bolt's fitness cropped up after the 200M in Kingston last week.

The tall Jamaican, who has repeatedly stated that he needs to retain his gold medals from Beijing to become a legend of his sport, has had a strange season so far, with an unimpressive victory in Ostrava in a liesurely 10.04 seconds setting tongues wagging. Start was the problem then and a change in sleep pattern affected him, said Bolt in reply.

Normal service seemed to have resumed when he ran a scorching 9.76 at Rome and 9.79 at Oslo in subsequent races but the trials underlined the fact that fitness will be a big factor in deciding which way the sprint races will swing in London.  A fit Bolt, if he gets over his sluggish start, is beyond the reach of anyone on this planet but with his world-leading time of 9.75 seconds in the 100 and excellent 19.80 in the 200 in Kingston, Blake has made a loud and clear statement to his compatriot – be even slightly off your best and there is a beast waiting to pounce. Fitness, indeed, is the key to this race. Time is ticking and Bolt's legendary status is on the line.

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