100m Men’s Final

In Sport on August 5, 2012 at 5:04 PM

The eyes of the world will be on the Olympic Stadium tonight for the men’s 100m Final. What makes it so enthralling is not just the raw speed (it should comprise the five men who have posted the fastest ever 100m times), but the enthralling cast of (probable) characters – the reigning champ (Bolt); the protégé (Blake); the (relative) elder statesmen (Powell and Gay); the redemptive figure (former drugs cheat, Gatlin); and the white guy (Frenchman, Lemaitre).

Usain Bolt, for those that have been living on Mars for the last half-decade, set the games alight in Beijing by absolutely obliterating both the field and the world record (from his own 9.72 to 9.69) …and still with time to celebrate after 80m. (And then won golds in world record times in the 200m and 4x100m Relay just for good measure). He then went on to defend his status with a series of impressive wins in Diamond League events breaking his own world record in Berlin, running a blistering 9.58. However, disaster struck at the World Championships in Daegu where he false started – and by quite some time – his training partner Yohan Blake capitalising. After the initial shock, many waved this off as a one-off lapse; a sign that even Bolt is human. However, Bolt’s loss to Blake at the much-feted Jamaican trials confirmed any lingering suspicions. It is true that Bolt was probably not 100% fit, but nonetheless, the loss proves a major scalp to Blake. And with Bolt proclaiming himself 95% fit at the start of these Games, it is also a loss which leaves the door at least slightly ajar for the opposition…

…Chief among them, at least by popular consensus, the aforementioned Blake. While the 22-year-old’s gold-winning time of 9.93 in Daegu was not lightning-quick – by the stratospheric standards of modern sprinting at least – it was a huge statement of intent. And his 9.75 personal best cert set in the trials in Kingston certainly was rather fast – the fifth quickest time in history. Plus, he has time on his side, allied with supreme confidence and an unbelievable workrate, which has earnt him the nickname of the “beast” from Bolt, whom he says he often beats in training. So the scary thing – for competitors at least – is that it seems he can only go quicker. It is certainly telling that, while the rivalry remains good-natured (they quip that the most competitive they get is over dominoes), the pair has increasingly been training separately in the run-up to the Olympics. Not so long ago (in the couple of years after Beijing), it was not inconceivable that Bolt was happy to mentor Blake (and Antiguan Daniel Bailey) just to give himself some reasonable competition. But in doing so, he’s helped in creating a monster, his own Frankenstein. The question is, can he be stopped?

Rather forgotten about in all the fanfare on the Bolt/Blake rivalry, in which Asafa Powell is a peripheral figure, is Tyson Gay. This is largely because he has been plagued with injuries. But it must be remembered this is a three-time gold medallist at World Championships (and more), who has run 9.68 (at the trials for the 2008 Olympics) – the second quickest time in history were it not for wind assistance. After having serious thoughts about retirement, the very fact he is at the Olympics at 29 years of age shows his belief and hunger. If he can shake off injury troubles, don’t be surprised if he sneaks onto the podium.

Asafa Powell will also be in serious contention for a medal. Thought of as the perennial nearly man of sprinting for his unfortunate tendency to run superfast times but not quite perform at his best when it really matters, his speed must not be ignored. He has held previously set the world record on three separate occasions (the last an utterly dominant 9.77 set in a Diamond League event in Gateshead), and qualified in the third and final slot in a very competitive field at the Jamaican trials despite carrying shoulder problems among others (a very brave run considering he was hobbling straight after).

American Justin Gatlin is also in the running, so to speak, for a medal. Spurred on by the desire to redeem himself for the shame of his drugs abuse, which brought him a four-year ban, he set a new personal best of 9.80 at the American trials – the fastest time ever for an someone over 30. And while this may not be enough to challenge the above runners on their proverbial day, such a time will certainly put him in the mix should the field fail to quite light up in the way expected (and certainly hoped).

Another notable mention goes to Christophe Lemaitre – the reserved (but certainly not unconfident) Frenchman who last year became the first white man to go sub-10, with his winning time of 9.92 at the French national championships at Albi. And British hopes of a medal, however vague (this Olympics at least), are best placed with Adam Gemili – an 18-year-old with a personal best of 10.05, and who is also on the books of League Two football side Dagenham & Redbridge (this season gone on loan at Thurrock).

Joel Durston

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