Bolt's comfort zone and the challenge for Asafa
Saturday, June 11, 2011
GIVEN the emotions involved, it was hardly surprising that even seasoned analysts among Mr Usain Bolt's huge following would have been worried by his form in recent 100m runs.
World and Olympic champion and world record holder over 100m and 200m, Mr Bolt seemed laboured and uncomfortable as he clocked 9.91 seconds in winning two races on the European circuit in late May.
It was enough to send many scurrying for explanations as to what could have gone wrong with the immensely popular Jamaican 'Superhero' who holds the world 100m record at an incredible 9.58 seconds.
In that context his victory on Thursday over 200 metres in Norway was a breath of fresh air. In wet, cold conditions typical of northern Europe, Mr Bolt clocked a world leading 19.86 seconds to win by a wide margin.
For those of us looking on, his form seemed much improved. Perhaps, even more to the point, he seemed extremely pleased with himself.
"I have nothing to worry about; I'm still the champion," said Mr Bolt, who has repeatedly insisted that his aim is the IAAF World Championships in Daegu, South Korea, come August, "nothing else". Therein, it seems to this newspaper, lies the crux of the matter. For unlike his rivals, Mr Bolt need not worry about qualifying for South Korea. Under IAAF rules, he as defending 100m and 200m champion is already qualified for those individual events at the World Championships.
He need not concern himself for example, with Jamaica's National Championships at the National Stadium starting June 23 which serves as trials to select Jamaica teams for events such as the World Championships and the Olympics.
That reality has allowed Mr Bolt and his esteemed coach Mr Glen Mills the luxury of only just starting the athlete's speed work, having concentrated on his core strength over recent months. It means Mr Bolt can focus on achieving peak physical condition just once this year -- for the World Championships in August.
Others of his compatriots in a similarly favoured situation are the 100m champion Ms Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, 400m hurdles champion Ms Melaine Walker and sprint hurdler Mrs Brigitte Foster-Hylton.
For others, the reality that only the first three in individual events at the National Championships will be guaranteed places at the World Championships requires that they are in tip-top physical shape for June 23. That probably explains, for example, the sensational early-season form of Mrs Veronica Campbell-Brown, who recently clocked a personal best 10.76 seconds over 100 metres. Mrs Campbell-Brown is well aware of the dangers. Athletic followers will recall that she placed fourth at national trials in 2008 despite a smart 10.88 second clocking. It meant she failed to qualify as an individual competitor for Jamaica in the women's 100m at the Beijing Olympics that year.
The high-riding Americans, Ms Carmelita Jetter and Mr Bolt's great rival Mr Tyson Gay, will also have similar considerations as they approach the US trials, also in two weeks' time.
For Jamaican male sprinters the task of qualifying to join Mr Bolt in the 100m in South Korea is particularly challenging this year. No fewer than six Jamaicans -- Mr Bolt apart -- have already run under 10 seconds in recent weeks. They are Messrs Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake, Steve Mullings, Nesta Carter and Nickel Ashmeade.
Track lovers will be particularly interested in the fortunes of the well-loved Mr Powell. He has been known to tighten up in challenging situations previously. Will he be able to find the strength and fortitude to deal with the exceptional challenge likely to be posed by the 'young Turks'?
We wish him well, as indeed we do all our athletes.