Big Bolt finish expected at World Championships in Beijing
One commonly held view about the incomparable Usain Bolt is that he is a slow starter. It's almost poetic the way we picture him whooshing past people to win. It's often true.
Richard Thompson, that fine Trinidad and Tobago sprinter, is reported to have said that the tall man passed him like a full bus in Beijing when the Caribbean men went one-two in the 2008 Olympic 100-metre final.
The 2004 champion Justin Gatlin tells a similar story about the 2012 final. The American, by his own account, was doing well when Bolt suddenly zoomed past.
The real truth is that Bolt is a better than adequate starter and that sometimes, he's pretty darn good. Thompson entered the Beijing 100 final as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion in the 60 metres and he was the only one ahead of Bolt at that distance into the race. Similarly, Gatlin has twice been World Indoor champion at 60 metres. For the 6' 5" Bolt to be close to those men after the start is no mean feat.
On his best days, he can be brilliant from the blocks. On his best ever day, the 100 final in the famous Berlin World Championships, he was exactly that. He led from the first step in a field with outstanding starters like bronze medal winner Asafa Powell, Thompson and Daniel Bailey of Antigua and Barbuda.
That getaway was part of a package that unwrapped itself to present fans with a world record of 9.58 seconds.
Even now, six years later, no one but Bolt himself has gotten near to it.
Once again, the tall man has started slowly with a run of 10.12 seconds for the 100 in Brazil last week. Those who want him to win in Beijing again at the 2015 World Championships are voicing their worry.
They needn't do so. As reigning World Champion in the 100 and 200, Bolt doesn't have to be sharp this early since he doesn't have to qualify for the Jamaican team at the National Championships in June.
Fellow double World Champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Diamond League winners Novlene Williams-Mills and Kaliese Spencer are in the same boat.
If they do compete at Nationals, it will be without the need to win or even place in the top three.
Those who worry would do well to remember that Bolt and Fraser-Pryce are enormously reliable in big meets. Even though his last individual world record was his sensational 19.19-second run over 200 metres in Berlin, Bolt always brings his best to the biggest meets.
In fact, he has run a seasonal best in every major championship final from 2008 onward. It's a compliment to his preparation by maestro Glen Mills, but goes back as far as his days at Boys and Girls' Champs with William Knibb Memorial High School.
'Shelly' is like that too. In championships, she is like an expert darts player hitting the personal best bullseye with pinpoint accuracy.
It may be that his days of running in the 9.5-9.6 range are over. His own pronouncements about focusing on beating 19 seconds for the 200 suggests that he agrees. Despite that, there is one almost certain guarantee.
On the days that count the most - and this year that includes the Beijing finals - history's greatest sprinter will be as close as possible to his considerable best.
n Hubert Lawrence has scrutinised athletics since 1980.