LONDON: The men’s 100m at this Olympic Games has deservedly attracted more interest than all other track and field events and will be beamed live to hundreds of millions of viewers.
The attraction in large part comes down to the role played in the resurgence of athletics on a global level by Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, who won treble gold at the Beijing Games, notably the 100m and 200m, in then-world record times.
Athletics officials, fans and sponsors alike immediately took to Bolt’s ebullient, fun-loving character and obvious ability on the track, catapulting him to stardom as one of the most marketable personalities on the planet and lending the sport a massive boost in terms of public awareness.
The 100m here not only sees Bolt bidding to replicate his achievements in Beijing, but also the rise of tyro Yohan Blake alongside a strong US team seeking to reclaim the sprinting mantle long held by Americans.
“I’m always ready,” said Bolt. “It’s all about championships. I’ve had slight problems, but I’m ready to go.”
Fitness concerns, an early morning car crash and losing both the 100m and 200m to training partner and compatriot Blake at the Jamaican Olympic trials raised serious doubts about Bolt’s ability to defend his titles.
But Bolt said: “I’m going to focus on going out there to win.
“My back was a little stiff and it affected my hamstring but I’m over that. I’ve been training for the past two-and-a-half weeks and everything is all right.”
Blake has been tipped as a natural successor to Bolt since his victories in the trials, but the 22-year-old insisted he was focused not on Bolt or other runners, but solely on running his own race.
“My philosophy is that the sky’s the limit,” said Blake, crowned world champion in Daegu last year after Bolt’s sensational false start in the final.
“I’ve always wanted to be at the Olympics. It’s everyone’s dream.
“I’m not focusing on Usain. It’s all about going out there, focusing and executing the race.”
For the first time since the advent of electronic timing, the field for the blue riband event of the Games will comprise the four fastest men in history — Bolt, Blake, Jamaica’s Asafa Powell and American Tyson Gay.
Gay headlines a United States team seeking to re-assert their authority on sprint events.
Despite only having made his competitive comeback after 50 weeks on the sidelines in June, Gay expressed the wish his legs would hold up sufficiently to get him a place on the podium.
“My only hope is that my body’s ready to go,” said Gay, who needed surgery on his hip after pulling up injured at the Beijing Games.
“It’s a lot of pressure, I’m not going to lie. The missing piece in my heart is an Olympic medal.”
Gay’s teammate Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion, missed Beijing while serving a four-year doping ban.
However, he ran his fastest ever 100m in winning the US trials and warned his rivals: “There’s a lot left in the tank.
“I have been through some dark past. What has kept me going is the faith of my fans knowing I am a legitimate athlete. I’ve been tested multiple times since I have been back. I’m a clean athlete. I’m focused on that.”
Channel News Asia