Bolt under threat?
With just a little over eight weeks to go before the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, the world's fastest man has looked anything but, stuttering along in an early season show that has raised questions about the threat to his empire.
Usain Bolt has rarely looked this vulnerable since he took the keys to the sprinting kingdom in 2008 - in Beijing of all places. Seven years later, the city of his coronation is shaping up to be the biggest test to his legacy.
Yet to dip below 20 seconds in his three attempts over 200m and a pedestrian 10.12 seconds run in his solitary 100m to date, Bolt - the six-time Olympic goal medallist and triple world record holder has looked anything but the all-conquering sprinting machine that he has been over the past few years.
It doesn't help that his rival, Justin Gatlin, has been setting fire to tracks over the past year and a half - ending 2014 with nine sub-10 seconds 100m and a season best of 9.76 as well as a 9.68 effort in the 200m, a time that he has already matched this year. Gatlin also lowered his 100m personal best to 9.74 a few weeks ago, with Asafa Powell (9.84) and Tyson Gay (9.88) already finding top gear.
The public reaction to Bolt's form has been more of a 'sky is falling' rather than a 'glass half-full' retort, and it's hard to expect any better when the athlete himself admitted to some concern after an uninspiring 20.29 run in his last outing at the New York Grand Prix a few days ago.
"I'm worried about what's happening and I just need to figure out what's happening this season," Bolt said, wiping his forehead shortly after stepping off the track in New York. It's largely the reason why he is competing this week at the National Senior Championships despite already qualifying for the World Championships because of the gold medals won in the 100m and 200m at the last instalment in Moscow two years ago.
But the question is, is track and field's poster boy really under threat, or will he once again find the answers when it matters - with medals on the line?
He is older and no doubt harder to motivate these days, having won it all, but this isn't the first time that we have seen a sluggish Bolt in May-June, particularly after coming off an inactive season.
Back in 2011, after he had cut his season short the year prior, following a loss to Gay in Stockholm, Bolt had similar struggles, particularly in the 200m, where he posted only one sub-20 seconds time in his first five outings before exploding in the final at the World Championships in Daegu, where he clocked 19.40, the second fastest time that year and the sixth fastest in history.
It also wasn't until his final race that year in Brussels in September, where he dipped below 9.80 seconds.
In 2012, Bolt didn't run sub-20 until July and ended up running 19.32 at the Olympic Games. That ranks as the joint fourth fastest time in history.
Additionally, in 2009, the year he broke his own 200m world record with a 19.19 seconds run at the London Olympics, Bolt also didn't dip below sub-20 seconds until July 7 in Lausanne. Even then, only four of his nine 200m races came with times under 20 seconds. In fact, since 2008, only six of his 14 200m races done before July have come in times faster than 20.00 seconds.
It's clearly getting harder to be Bolt, but all things considered, it's probably way too early to write him off for another dominating display in Beijing. It's possible, lightning can strike at the same place twice.