The women’s sprints aren’t so popular!

Not surprisingly, all eyes are on Usain Bolt for the Rio sprints. But, unlike the men’s field, the pack of the fastest ladies in the world neither has the world record holder nor holds the promise of clocking the best-ever time.

The Jamaicans, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (left) and Veronica Campbell-Brown, wiill be hoping to leave their mark on the Rio Olympics.   -  Getty Images

If there was ever a showpiece event in a multi-discipline event like the Olympic Games, the men’s 100m final clearly wins the race to earn the envied tag. The same cannot be said about the corresponding event for the ladies. And that’s not without reason.The curiosity to know the planet’s fastest man of the moment ends in less than 10 seconds once the starter’s gun booms. The rivalry among the contenders for the gold helps in the build-up to the mini-battle. On the big day, there is no room for excuses. No quarter given, none asked.

The latest of the famous rivalries from the sprinters involves the indomitable Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin. The Jamaican champion, holder of the World and Olympic records and titles, is once again seen as the favourite but this year, Gatlin looks better prepared to cause a probable upset.

 

Bolt has been dealing with fitness issues and has not raced as much in the run-up to Rio. That’s one big reason why many experts feel that a third straight treble — winning the 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relay — may be a tough ask for Bolt.

Gatlin, who has clocked the world’s two best timings this season — 9.80 seconds and 9.83 — on July 3, senses his chance to turn the tables, for once, on the mighty Jamaican on the big stage.

The American, twice banned for doping violations, was expected to pull it off against Bolt in last year’s World championships after returning better timings throughout the season. On the other hand, Bolt struggled with injuries and did not look very convincing in the races leading to the big clash for the world title.

But as it turned out, Bolt beat Gatlin in both 100m and 200m to underscore his reputation as one of the greatest sprinters of all time.

Gatlin, who led for the better part of that 100m showdown, has not gotten over the loss. He sounds much chastened when he says, “I got sucked in too much last year, into the hype. One lesson I learned is to stay within myself. The excitement is for the fans and the media, but for me, I just have to worry about executing my race in my lane.”

About the much-anticipated final, featuring the two rivals, in Rio, Gatlin says, “I want it to be one of the most exciting races in track and field history. I want fans around the world to stand still for nine seconds and watch the fastest race ever.”

Gatlin maintains that he and Bolt share the “utmost respect for each other when it comes to competition.”

Having set the Olympic record of 9.63 in London in 2012, Bolt said the other day, “I never try to predict times because you never know what will happen. But for me, the shape I’m in, 9.6 seconds, definitely.”

Obviously, it is not just about these two sprinters. Another American Trayvon Bromell and Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut are the others who have clocked better times than Bolt, this year.

Unlike the men’s field, the pack of the fastest ladies in the world neither has the world record holder nor holds the promise of clocking the best-ever time.

Bolt’s counterpart from Jamaica, Elaine Thompson, leads the season’s best timings list, while her compatriots, defending champion Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce and a seven-time Olympic medallist Veronica Campbell Brown, will be keen to leave their mark on the Games.

The American challenge comes from English Gardner, who has the season’s second-best time.

The ladies final could be close with Ivory Coast’s Murielle Ahoure and the two Americans, Tianna Bartoletta and Tori Bowie, too looking in good form this season.