Bolt’s legacy as ‘world’s fastest man’ at risk
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Four years after Usain Bolt (centre) made Olympic history as the “world’s fastest man” in Beijing, the Jamaican sprinter’s legacy hangs in the balance as he prepares to compete against his talented younger countryman, Yohan Blake.
, special correspondent in London
It should have been a foregone conclusion. Of all the Olympians who claimed gold at the Beijing 2008 Games, Usain Bolt was the most electric. The Jamaican won sprint titles in the 100-m, 200-m and 4x100-m relay, in the process becoming the first man to set world records in all three events at the same Olympics. He then went on to better both of his individual world-best times at the 2009 world championships in Berlin, running 9.58s in the 100-m, a time some had thought beyond the limits of human ability.
So defending his individual Olympic titles in London seemed almost guaranteed for the world's fastest man.
The problem is this: Bolt is not the fastest man in the world this year, nor is he the fastest man from Jamaica this year. What’s more, he's not even the fastest sprinter coached by trainer Glen Mills this year.
Contrast in style
Bolt lost to 22-year-old Yohan Blake, with whom he shares a coach, at the Jamaican Olympic trials at the end of June. In fact he lost twice: in both the 100-m and 200-m, as Blake ran the year's fastest time of 9.75s in the former, and alarm bells started to ring for Bolt. This came after losing his 100-m world title to his compatriot Blake thanks to a disqualification for a false start in the Daegu final last year. When Bolt laboured to a shocking 10.04s in Ostrava at the start of the European season in 2012, the inquisition over his form and fitness level began.
The contrast between the pair is fascinating. Bolt shot to stardom as a 21-year-old in Beijing, winning the 100-m in what was the fastest-ever time over the distance, despite visibly slowing down as he spent the final 15 metres celebrating the feat, and astonishingly did so with his shoelaces untied. His insouciant charisma was encapsulated by pre-victory naps and tales of grazing on fast food on race day. Typically relaxed, Bolt basks in his magnetic personality, and his 6-foot-4 (196 cm) frame and loveable hubris have made him stand out as the most explosive sprinting talent of all time.
Blake, by contrast, styles himself as a quiet, humble grafter: "When you guys are sleeping at night, I am out there working," he says - and that is, according to the man from Bogue Hill, why they call him “The Beast." I work twice as hard as everybody else."
Blake eats right, pushes himself as hard as he possibly can with his coach, and at 17 kilos lighter and 16 centimetres smaller, cuts a very different figure from his elder countryman in several ways.
Bolt has always proffered nothing but support for Blake, and that was corroborated by the youngster after his Jamaican trials victory: "Usain Bolt has been motivating me," Blake said. "And telling me I can do it." Now Blake believes it too, and frankly Bolt looks worried.
Blake could be just what what Bolt needs
Bolt has been struggling with injuries, and his coach explained away the defeat in Jamaica by saying Bolt was behind Blake in terms of London 2012 preparations because he had departed to Europe to compete. And he is still the reigning 200-m world champion after defending that title in Daegu - in only 19.4 seconds. No one doubts that if Bolt is in top form, his rivals will have little chance of beating him in the 100-m Olympic final on August 5.
But is Bolt in top form? He told the BBC that he was at 95 percent heading into the Games, heaping further pressure on his own shoulders by confessing, "This is the moment that is going to define my entire life."
Bolt has lost five percent of the sparkle in his demeanour as well. He has looked uncharacteristically concerned in recent months, and questions remain over his ability to get out of the blocks quickly.
The veteran has said he wants to use these Olympics to become a legend, and Bolt could create a legacy like no other if he repeats his medal haul from Beijing. The presence of Blake could be what Bolt needs to transcend injury worries and concerns over his start to once again attain times the world has never seen before.
But Blake's presence may equally rob him of Olympic glory.