If Usain Bolt races as confidently as he talked in the build up to these Anniversary Games a familiar story will play out in London’s Olympic Stadium on Friday night: Bolt cantering home, accepting the adornments of the flower girls and the 50,000 crowd, and leaving everyone else straining and stretched out behind him.
Those close to the Jamaican, who runs over 200m, say he has recovered from the grade one hamstring tear that forced him to withdraw from the Jamaican trials earlier this month. And, quietly, they expect him to win in a time somewhere around 19.8 sec – which is not to be sniffed at. It won’t hurt either that Olympic Stadium has been relaid with the same lightning fast Mondo track that will be used in Rio, or that the temperatures should sit snugly in the mid-20s.
Bolt, however, is already looking beyond the run and towards his hugely anticipated clash with Justin Gatlin, whom he beat by 0.01 sec at the World Championships in Beijing last year, when the American stumbled reaching for the line.
“This year it’s not going to be the same,” warned Bolt. “I’m in much better shape, so I won’t leave it to the last second. I’m looking forward to going down there and doing my best and putting on a show for the whole entire world to see.”
There was also a subtle, but unmistakable, dig at Gatlin’s mental fortitude under pressure. “I think I’m definitely a tough competitor mentally,” said Bolt. “Last year Gatlin was just not ready. It was the first time he was actually being chased. He was usually the one who was chasing. Or he was winning by far, but this time he had a tough competitor which was me. It was hard for him.”
Bolt believes he has been able to return so quickly from his hamstring injury because of a visit across the Atlantic to his controversial doctor Hans-Wilheim Müller-Wohlfahrt, who is fond of injecting calves’ blood and honey into his patients. “My hamstrings are good, I have no issues right now,” he said. “The doctor did an extremely good job. The 200m is my favourite event and I know I’m in good shape. I’m looking to run a real fast time.”
Bolt should have few problems against a field that includes Britain’s Adam Gemili and Danny Talbot as well as Diamond Race leader Alonso Edward of Panama. And such was his relaxed state that even the prospect of losing his 2008 Olympic gold medal from the 4x100m relay in Beijing – if his compatriot Nesta Carter’s failed drugs test is confirmed – didn’t appear to come as a huge blow. Then again, Bolt has five other Olympic gold medals in his medal cabinet.
“It will be a little bit disappointing to lose the medal, but rules are rules,” he said. “It’s just one of those things. I’ve shown over the years that I’m the greatest athlete and that’s the key thing.”
Over 50 Olympic, world and Paralympic medallists will be competing in the Anniversary Games, which runs over Friday and Saturday, including many of Britain’s biggest medal hopes for Rio such as Mo Farah, who runs in the 3,000m on Saturday, and Jessica Ennis-Hill who tackles the 100m hurdles tonight and the long jump tomorrow.
The American 100m hurdler Kendra Harrison, who will face Ennis-Hill, believes she could set a world record in the stadium having run the second-fastest time in history earlier this year. “I feel like I’m in good shape, and I’ll be going for the world record,” she warned.
She may not be the only one. The Olympic triple jump champion Christian Taylor believes a challenge to Jonathan Edwards’ 18.29m world record, which has stood for over 20 years, may not be beyond him.
“Fingers crossed if it can just stay dry, I think it is possible,” he said. “That is my mindset. Why not do it on Edwards’ home soil?”
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