Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Orville Higgins | Let the real games begin

Published:Friday | August 12, 2016 | 8:00 AM
Omar McLeod

The 'real' Olympics will start this weekend. For most Jamaicans, all that has gone on before is mere fluff. We watched the gymnastics and archery and rowing with the same intensity that we watch the commercials before our favourite television show, or like how we treat the appetiser before the main course.

These things we tolerate, but we are now ready for track and field, and more track than field, of course. (And more sprints on the track than anything else.) We were curious about Toni-Ann the gymnast. We haven't yet developed an emotional attachment to her, and therefore her failure to create an impression didn't overly disappoint. We were hoping and expecting that Alia would at least medal in the 100m breaststroke final. Her last-place finish has hurt as much as it has mystified us. We had expected better.

Come this weekend, we expect all this to be rectified. To paraphrase Bolt, we should now start turning our "full wrath" on the Rio stage. The big man himself has been talking more than normal. I'm not sure why. Maybe he has been irked by the criticism of the US sprinters, but he is now saying he is in 9.6 shape for the 100, and feels he can go sub-19 in the 200.

The American sprinters are not smart. Trash-talking Bolt has never worked. They would have been better served keeping their mouths shut. Bolt is hard enough to beat when he is semi-motivated. When he is determined to prove a point, he is sport's surest thing to betting certainty. He won't break his records, but I can't see him losing any of his individual races. I saw Yohan Blake at a CPL game at Sabina Park. We exchanged pleasantries, and I asked if he could be in the 9.7s in Rio. He said, "Faster than that!" He had on a wide grin. I still think only Bolt can beat Gatlin, but Yohan could steal third in both sprint events.

The women's 100m is not so straightforward. Shelly is going for an unprecedented three straight 100m Olympic titles. If she wins in Rio, she would be right up there with the greatest female sprinters ever. It's a cruel irony that one of the main hurdles standing in her way is her friend and training partner, Elaine Thompson. Elaine's beating Shelly would be bittersweet. It must be difficult that your friend could be your biggest opponent.

Their coach, Stephen Francis, is saying they are ready for big things. I say Thompson taking it from Shelly - but only just. Schippers and company may have to settle for the minor places. For the 200, Schippers' strength may be the X-factor, but if Elaine wins the 100, I think momentum will give her the 200 victory, too.

FIRST-TIME FAVOURITES

For the first time we are favourites in the sprint hurdles for men. Omar McLeod is the only man to have gone under 13 seconds this year. Indeed, his 12.98 and 13.01 represent the two fastest times over the high hurdles this year. If he doesn't hit the hurdles, he wins. Simple as that. I wouldn't be happy with second. This is Omar's race, and he should not lose.

Speaking of hurdles, the men's 400 hurdles is wide open - maybe the race in the Olympics that's hardest to call. No man has run in the 47-second region this year. All the other major contenders, including Jaheel Hyde, are in the 48-plus range. No teenager has ever won this event, but Hyde is mature beyond his years and could be the man to beat in another two or three years. The other Jamaican with a real chance here is Annsert Whyte. Annsert comes in with a season's best 48.66. It isn't special, but you never know.

There are other Jamaicans who could take gold. The 400 hurdles for women is maybe as wide open as the men's. Dalilah Mohammed of the US shocked the world when she ran 52.88 to win the US trials, the fastest time in the world for three years. That time is unbeatable if she reproduces in Rio. Others like Hejnova from the Czech Republic could surprise, but we should not rule out our own Janieve Russell. Her 53.96 in Rome is the third best in the world this year. If she can shake her injury and recapture that form, a podium finish is likely.

So 12 medals with five gold? Bolt will get three, Elaine Thompson will get one, and the other to Omar McLeod. That's my expectation. Now let the real Games begin!

- Orville Higgins is a sportscaster and talk-show host at KLAS ESPN Sports FM. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.