Usain Bolt at the press conference ahead of the IAAF Diamond League meeting in New York (© Victah Sailer)
The Adidas Grand Prix in New York on Saturday (13) will feature two world record-holders who ran some of the best times in their respective careers at this IAAF Diamond League meeting: Usain Bolt and David Rudisha.
The Jamaican sprinter clocked his first ever 100m world record at Icahn Stadium back in 2008 and hasn’t been back until this week. Rudisha, in turn, has been coming to New York every year since 2012.
Ahead of their races at the seventh leg of the 2015 IAAF Diamond League, both athletes shared their excitement and hopes for season’s best times with the media at the event’s official press conference.
Rudisha definitely has some fond memories of Icahn Stadium, where, in 2012, he ran one of his best times – 1:41.74, his seventh-fastest race to date. Later that year, the Kenyan won the Olympic 800m title in a world record of 1:40.91.
Since his Olympic victory, Rudisha had been plagued with injuries. In 2014, he had a consistent season of racing, but was defeated in his main championship final of the year at the Commonwealth Games.
“I wasn’t very fit, just working through my comeback,” he said. “But coming into that competition, I was thinking that I still could if not win then, at least, finish in the top three.”
Another injury scare hit Rudisha just two weeks ago at the Ostrava Golden Spike meeting, where he pulled up 100 meters into a 600m race. But Rudisha assured the media that he is now pain free.
“It was just a muscle spasm,” he said. “The best thing was that I was able to still train through my rehab. The Birmingham Diamond League came too soon, so we decided to be cautious and withdraw.”
Precautions have to be made with it being an IAAF World Championships year. “During these seasons we have to be very fit. At Grand Prix meets we only race once and we come to the race fresh. At the big championships, we have to be physically and mentally ready to get through many rounds.”
Bolt was happy to revel in the 2008 New York memories. “It was an intense race for me,” he recalled. “There was a thunderstorm, the rain was pouring. And it was the first time when I got to race all the big names in the event. I’ve been looking forward to it all season.”
Despite the rough weather, the Jamaican ran a sizzling 9.72 on that occasion. This year, he is set to race over 200m. There is no world record on the agenda this time, but Bolt promised to run sub-20. In fact, it would be his first sub-20 performance since his triumph at the 2013 IAAF World Championships.
“I’m not where I want to be yet, but I’m feeling better every day in training and I know what I need to work on,” he said. “I have to get more races under my belt, and just work on my execution.”
Bolt admitted that he is not afraid of his US rivals. “I strive off the competition,” he said. “I have 11-12 weeks until the World Championships. My focus is there, so I’ll be ready to go.”
If for the upcoming race the target is sub-20, for the next season it is much more ambitious: sub-19 and a victory at what is to become his last Olympics.
“I already told my coach that I wanted to break the 200m world record next season, so I’ll be racing over that distance a lot,” he said. “The closer the Olympics are, the more excited I get. There will be a lot of sacrifices made next season and a lot of hard work put in.”
The world’s fastest man will definitely get a warm welcome back at Icahn stadium, especially from New York’s sizeable Jamaican population. And Bolt has already promised that he would stop for everyone wanting to take an autograph or a selfie on his victory lap.
“There are so many Jamaicans here, and they are always loud and supportive,” he said. “It feels like a home away from home. True, victory laps have now become much longer with all the selfies. But I don’t mind, it’s my way of saying thanks to the fans.”
Wilson, Suhr and Harris ready to please the home crowd
For Jennifer Suhr and Ajee Wilson, New York is quite literally a home away from home.
Olympic pole vault champion Suhr lives and trains upstate, a five-hour drive from the city, while US 800m champion Ajee Wilson used to compete at Icahn stadium before becoming a professional athlete. In fact, before her race on Saturday she will get to cheer for the 4x100m of her alma mater, Neptune High School.
Unlike Rudisha, Wilson didn’t announce any time predictions, explaining that she puts more focus on winning each race than chasing particular times. For the 21-year-old, Saturday’s race is an important step towards earning a team spot for the World Championships at the US Championships in a couple of weeks.
“I have to get sharp and get ready,” she said. “You remember what happened at the Indoor Nationals, I fell. So my place on the team is not guaranteed.”
Suhr also had to deal with a painful fall fairly recently. Last season, she switched from fibreglass to carbon poles, and one of the poles snapped in practice, injuring the world indoor record-holder.
“I was experimenting. And now I’m back to fibreglass,” she said. “These are the poles that the current world records are set on. I jumped my indoor record on fiberglass, Renaud Lavillenie and Yelena Isinbayeva use these poles too.”
This IAAF Diamond League meeting will be the first big competition for Suhr this season. Afterwards, she will get back to training for the US Trials.
“I’m finally healthy now, so I’m able to train hard, ironing out what I wasn’t able to take care of before,” she said. “So I have to just keep working.”
Rising sprint hurdles star Aleec Harris managed to assemble a winning streak of 14 races in this unpredictable event, stretching from July 2014 to the recent Prefontaine Classic. He was quick to reveal his key element of success to the media.
“I take every race as a championship race, and focus on winning,” he said. “More experienced athletes approach some races as a prep, or as a warm up. I want to build a name for myself and victories can help me do that.”
Harris, with the help of his mentors Gail Devers and Ryan Wilson, is definitely having a smooth transition from the collegiate to the professional scene. Next on his agenda is making his first national team for the World Championships in Beijing. According to his estimate, that would require running 12.9-13.1 at the US Championships later this month.
And next year his goal is, of course, the Rio 2016 Olympics. “One of my best friends told me he had dreams about me being in Brazil, all the way back when we were younger,” he said. “This is my main goal – to make it happen.”
Elena Dyachkova for the IAAF