Usain Bolt — electric, engaging & ethical!

The athletics world would like Bolt to continue forever for he is its most valuable salesman, one who makes the sport appear like a glamorous package and markets it wonderfully well despite the doping slush, rot and stink all around. In short, he is a wonderful mix, the complete package.

Usain Bolt in a playful mood at a press conference in Rio de Janeiro. The Jamaican is the most loved athlete in the world today.   -  REUTERS

Justin Gatlin of the United States (right) congratulates Usain Bolt on winning the 200m final at the IAAF World Championships in Beijing last year. Gatlin is one of the main challengers for both the 100m and 200m titles at Rio 2016, but Bolt ever remains the popular favourite.   -  REUTERS

Quietly, without the world getting much of a whiff of it, Justin Gatlin broke Usain Bolt’s 100m World record in Japan recently. And the time? 9.45 seconds! That shattered Bolt’s 9.58s which came in 2009 when the Jamaican won the World championship gold in Berlin.

But there was a small problem.

American Gatlin’s stunning time was wind assisted, or to be more specific, it was fan assisted and thus not recognised.

The race was organised for ‘Kasupe’, a Japanese television game show and a giant fan was placed behind the start line to virtually blow Gatlin off the blocks and to the finish. The American was the lone runner in the event and four other fans were strategically placed on either side of his lane to help him heavily. The wind speed was estimated at 32km per hour, over four times the legal limit of two metres per second.

That probably was the only way Gatlin was going to get past Bolt’s World record.

For years, athletes have been looking for short cuts to medals and fame. Gatlin himself had been suspended twice for doping earlier, in 2001 and 2006, and every sudden and quick rise in athletics has been looked at with a lot of suspicion.

Four of the five fastest 100m runners in the all-time list — Yohan Blake, Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Justin Gatlin, who is also the fastest man this year — have all been in trouble over doping at some point or the other.

 

That should offer an idea of how worrisome the situation is. And Bolt, who tops the all-time list as the planet’s fastest man ever, is the only athlete who has come clean every time. There is a certain magic about the Jamaican, probably the most-loved athlete in the world today. The man is all smiles, all the time. He loves a crowd, knows how to entertain them and make them feel special. One just has to take a look at his pre-race DJ miming, his post-race push-ups and the famous bow-and-arrow pose. He is a born entertainer.

He also comes with a certain invincible tag. His World records in the 100m (9.58s, bettering his own previous mark by a massive 0.11s) and 200m (19.19s) are amazing and give one the feeling that they have probably come from another, superior planet.

“I think these records will easily stand for another 20 years or more. I’m a sprinter, I know how difficult it is to clock these sort of timings,” Ramasamy Gnanasekharan, the last Indian man to win a 100m medal at the Asian Games (silver in Bangkok, 1978), told Sportstar from Chennai.

“I don’t think we have such a man around who can break them, and if there is somebody who could, he is yet to be born.”

Bolt certainly has the stuff to match his lovable gimmicks and that is what makes him very special. And his clean image, despite being tested probably a thousand times or more, is something athletics desperately needs now more than ever.

He is the man who carries the scandal-hit sport on his broad shoulders. These are very desperate times for world athletics. The situation is so bad that Russian athletes have been banned from the Olympics by the athletics’ world body IAAF for alleged State-sponsored doping in that country and the World record-breaking Kenyan distance runners have also been under the scanner for some time now.

The athletics world would like Bolt to continue forever for he is its most valuable salesman, one who makes the sport appear like a glamorous package and markets it wonderfully well despite the doping slush, rot and stink all around. In short, he is a wonderful mix, the complete package.

But Bolt has made it clear that Rio will be his last Olympics. And to make it memorable for all, the Jamaican, the World record holder in the 100m, 200 and 4x100m relay, promises to finish his Olympic career with a memorable ‘triple-triple’ at Rio after winning all the above events at the last two Olympics, in London and Beijing.

So, how will it turn out at Rio?

Let us have a look at some of the men who could line up for the 100m final at Rio.

Apart from Bolt and Gatlin, Jamaican Yohan Blake, Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut, who equalled the European record of 9.86 recently, 21-year-old American World junior record holder Trayvon Bromwell, who was a bronze medallist at last year’s Beijing Worlds, and Qatar’s Nigeria-born Asian record holder Femi Ogunode are among the men who are fancied to run the Rio final.

Just a year ago, Gatlin went to the World championships in Beijing as the favourite to emerge the fastest man. But Bolt, though not in the best of form or fitness, came out triumphant, but by just 0.01s ahead of Gatlin.

“When I’m not in great shape — and I wasn’t last year — my start plays on my mind because I don’t have the best one,” Bolt had said then. “If I’m in good shape I can catch Gatlin no matter what, but last year he was in good form and I wasn’t, so I was thinking: If I get a bad start, it’s over.”

The start has often been Bolt’s weak point. The taller you are, the tougher your start because it is easier for a shorter sprinter to move from a crouched position to upright faster. But despite this weakness, the Jamaican’s statuesque six-foot five-inch frame and his long legs help propel him to the front of the field.

Bolt takes some 41 steps to complete the 100m, while Gatlin needs 42.5 steps and Yohan Blake, the second fastest man in history with his 9.69m in 2012, takes 46 steps.

Bolt, 29, is not at his best this year too. In fact, he pulled out of the Jamaican Olympic trials with a hamstring strain, but the Jamaican Athletics Association granted him medical exemption from the trials and named him in the team to Rio.

That brought a jibe from Gatlin who said that the Jamaican had been given a ‘medical pass’ to compete in Rio.

Bolt’s reply was fast too.

“I think they have not learned over the years that the more you talk, the more I will want to beat you,” he said. “It’s one of those things, but I’m looking forward to it, should be exciting and they will feel my full wrath as always.”

The world surely will be licking its lips in anticipation.

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