Usain Bolt at the press conference for the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London (© Kirby Lee)
Usain Bolt has put his injury worries behind him and is ready to run a fast time at the Müller Anniversary Games tomorrow night (22 July) when he makes his final competitive appearance before next month’s Rio Olympic Games.
Bolt will race over 200m for the first time this season at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London, knowing that he needs to send a message to his Olympic rivals after a strained hamstring forced him out of the Jamaican Championships three weeks ago.
With LaShawn Merritt clocking a blistering 19.74 semifinal at the US Olympic Trials two weeks ago and Justin Gatlin racing to the US title in virtually the same time, Bolt would be justified in feeling a little nervous after being sidelined at such a crucial stage of the season.
But this is Bolt, and Bolt doesn’t do nerves.
“My hamstring is good and I have no issues right now,” he told a packed press conference this morning. “I’m not nervous at all.
“The doctor worked his usual magic on my hamstring so it’s all good. Training has been going well and I’m here to win, so that’s my focus.
“I need to do a 200m because I’ve not done one yet,” he added. “I was disappointed not to run one at the trials and I need the races.
“The 200m is my favourite event and I’m looking forward to my first of the season. I know I’m in good shape so it’s just about execution now. I’m ready to run a fast time.”
What a “fast time” might mean at this point of his season Bolt declined to say, but with Canada’s sub-20-second half-lapper Brendon Rodney in the line-up as well as 2009 world silver medallist Alonso Edward and perennial world finalist Nickel Ashmeade, he will need to show some speed to maintain his unbeaten record at London’s Olympic Stadium.
At this stage last season Bolt ran a 9.87 100m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London as he bounced back from a pelvis injury to announce his fitness for the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015. And of course he holds the stadium records of 9.63 and 19.32 from London 2012.
“It means the world to me to be back here,” said Bolt of his return to the scene of his three Olympic triumphs four years ago.
“The track is wonderful and it’s going to be a great competition. The crowd is always magnificent here and so energetic, I love feeding off that energy. It’s always in front of a big Jamaican contingent here so it will be a lot of fun.”
Bolt insists his decision to withdraw from the national trials means he will be back to his best by the time he steps on to the Maracanã track on 13 August, although he admitted the injury could have derailed what was an encouraging pre-Olympic campaign.
The 11-time world champion’s 9.88 100m in Kingston on 11 June was, briefly, the second-best time in the world and an ominous sign of things to come.
“I did have a strain so if I had competed I would have probably torn the hamstring really bad,” he said. “But I was never really worried because my coach always makes the right decisions.
“I was in pretty good shape before I was injured, so I was not really that worried I wouldn’t be ready in time.”
As for the threat from Merritt and Gatlin in Rio, the ever-confident Bolt did his best not to sound too dismissive of the US pair who look set to be closest Rio rivals.
“Very interesting,” was how he described Merritt’s unexpected breakthrough at 200m, adding: “I always look forward to a challenge, so I am looking forward to competing against him. I know he’s a great competitor.”
Gatlin, of course, is well known to the 29-year-old, not least from last year’s World Championships where the 2004 Olympic champion was tipped to snatch Bolt’s sprint titles, only for the Jamaican to pip him on the line.
“Gatlin was not ready last year because it was the first time he had been chased,” said Bolt. “He was used to being so far ahead that he couldn’t handle being chased down.
“But this year is not going to be the same. I’m in much better shape so I’m not going to leave it till the last second.
“I’ve shown over the years that I’m the greatest athlete and that’s the key thing,” he added. “I know when it comes to the day I’ll get it right because I always do.”
Whether “getting it right” could bring his 19.19 200m world record within sight, Bolt said, simply, “It’s possible.
“I’m just happy that I didn’t have a really bad set-back. And after the 100m, with the energy it will take to win that event, I could get close to the world record in the 200m. That’s always my big goal.”
Matthew Brown for the IAAF