The Beast getting speed up for ‘very good year’
When Jamaican sprinting star Yohan Blake crossed the line ahead of the pack - hands stretched wide in the 100-metre final at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in South Korea - it signalled the arrival of Jamaica and the world's next phenomenon.
At 21-year-old, he had then become the youngest World champion in the event and was tipped to lead the next batch of great Jamaican sprinters.
A year later at the London Olympics, only Usain Bolt could beat him and when he ran a mind-boggling 19.26 seconds over the 200 metres on the circuit - the second-fastest 200m time in history - a few weeks later in Brussels, Blake seemed destined to fulfil the lofty expectations.
However, his experience since then, even for the most optimistic, has been anything but encouraging.
A hamstring injury in 2013 robbed him of the chance to defend his World title in Moscow, but with the turn of the new year bringing word that 'The Beast' was returning to his best and a 19-second flat anchor leg on Jamaica's world record 1:18.63 4x200m win at the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Relays in May seemingly adding merit, things again took a turn for the worse.
This time, not only would his career be tested, but also his very will and determination.
Blake pulled up while competing in the 100m at a meet in Glasgow on July 11, 2014 and had to be carted off the track. For the second straight year, the sprinter had to pull the plug on his season, watching from his home as his colleagues romped their way to Commonwealth Games success - of all places, in Glasgow.
Surgery and a long rehab process followed and with one of the most exciting seasons of track and field ahead, Blake is in a familiar place. In this, his darkest valley, he will have to answer the questions about his ability to return to the hilltop of 2011.
"I thought 2014 was shaping up to be one of my best years. I felt strong and I was feeling very good before getting that injury," Blake told The Gleaner shortly after collecting awards for his IAAF World Relays effort at last Friday's RJR Sports Foundation Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year awards at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel.
"Last year, things started off well enough for me. I ran 19 flat on the anchor leg in the 4x200m relay at the World Relays in Bahamas and that gave us a world record, which I am very proud of along with the other guys on the team," Blake continued.
Tough as it has been, the sprinter is eagerly anticipating the season ahead and has promised to return to his best with this year's IAAF World Championships in Beijing, next year's Olympic Games in Rio, and the 2017 World Championships in London all circled on the calendar.
"It's been really tough. This time, it was a more serious injury and, of course, I had to do surgery, so it was really tough. But I'm working hard, though. It's never easy, but we are all putting in the work. The coach (Glen Mills) likes what he has seen so far and I know that this will turn out to be a really good year," Blake believes.
"Right now, I am in training. I wouldn't say I am at full speed yet, but I have been doing some good work, putting in some good work because, of course, this is a big year with the World Championships coming up and I have to get ready for the trials," he added.
"Training is going really well and I am happy where I am at right now."