Thursday, April 18, 2024

A THORNY ISSUE: Bolt strikes


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He locked it down, decisively, on two fronts in Beijing on Sunday.

This was the second time in his career heading into a major championship that some pundits, experts and casual armchair adjudicators, had doubted his ability to win on the big stage.

Circumspect form before the 2012 London Olympics led forecasters to say he could be upstaged by compatriot Yohan Blake who had beaten him at the Jamaican trials. The legend proved he was still the king and the doubts evaporated as fast as he had completed the race.

This year hasn’t been one of his best due mainly to injury and the Justin Gatlin factor again raised questions about his ability to defend his  World Championship 100 metres title in Beijing.

For all the tea in China, many couldn’t see him winning. That number included Ato Bolden who said he would place a Bolt victory over the in-form Gatlin in the same category as Muhammad Ali whipping overwhelming favourite George Foreman in Zaire in 1974.

Perhaps it was such talk that helped to motivate the phenomenal Jamaican in posting what seemed an unlikely triumph. Fact is Bolt knows how to win the races that matter most. Once he comes fighting fit it is worries for allcomers.

Gatlin can tell that tale because despite running unbeaten in 28 races and clocking five sub 9.8s this season,he was the one who buckled under pressure when the crown jewels were at stake. Bolt cooly grabbed the bounty once his arch-rival tied up and melted in the heat.

Bolt is among that special breed of sportsmen who can turn up on any given day, once they are fit, and do something extraordinary. Other legends like Ali, Sir Garfield Sobers, Pele and Michael Jordan could work what seemed like magic once they put their minds to it. Normal mortals would have to work that much harder just to be on par.

So, he again proved his sporting brilliance in what might be considered his best performance ever only because of the pressure he had to shoulder before the event.

A huge part of that pressure had to do with his being seen as the one to restore the image of the sport and saving its soul in light of a recent alleged cover-up of numerous “suspicious” doping results by athletics’ governing body, the IAAF. Not forgetting, either, that Gatlin had tested positive twice before and was still allowed to be in the sport.

The purists wanted Bolt to prove that you can be clean and still succeed.

Objectively, I don’t think that message should be limited to Gatlin, but every other athlete who has been caught cheating should face the same judgement irrespective of nationality.

I won’t say that Bolt’s victory has done anything to eliminate the suspicion and scepticism surrounding athletics; it proved again, more than anything else, that he’s very special. I don’t expect that aspect to be in a conversation about Usain Bolt in the future.

I believe the performances of our own Ramon Gittens and Levi Cadogan were commendable as they were able to reach the semi-finals in the 100 metres.

Let’s face it, to be truly competitive in this event nowadays, you have to be running sub 10, so that’s their homework as they eye the Rio Olympics next year. I also think that a 4 x 100 metres relay team will be an asset at those games.

The Akela Jones element must be encouraged despite disappointment in her first global heptathlon which ended prematurely, presumably because of injury. A fit Jones will be in the mix in the 2016 Olympics.

Crucially, all of our likely Olympic candidates should get the necessary assistance to help them prepare properly for the biggest stage of all.

I hope, too, that there will be representation by the local media in Brazil because we need to have first-hand information and reporting on what is going on with our athletes.

Andi Thornhill is an experienced, award-winning sports journalist.


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