Bolt is back
In recent weeks, the focus on Jamaican track and field has shifted as fast as a start by Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. In one minute, there was growing lament about the country's one medal return at the World Youth Championships. Then came the blockbuster athletic departure of three Jamaicans for Bahrain.
Thankfully, there was some good news to soothe punch-drunk fans - the return of the tall man, Usain Bolt. For someone who hadn't raced since June 13, he looked very good in the first of his two trips to the track in London last Friday. As expected, his start was covered with accumulated rust, but the familiar smooth stride zoomed him away from the pack.
Despite a chilly 1.2 metre per second headwind and feathering of the accelerator near the end of his 100-metre heat, the Trelawny native clocked 9.87 seconds. Zero out the wind and that turns into a 9.80. It's no wonder his coach, sprint guru Glen Mills, was encouraged.
Glued to his blocks in the final an hour later, Bolt scrambled to another wind-hampered 9.87 in the final. Remove the glue, turn up the temperature, and the tall man will clearly deliver times as fast or faster than the 9.77 he needed to win the 100m at the 2013 World Championships.
Maybe there's more there. London was just his sixth sprint meet of the year, and we now know that most of the first five came while he struggled with injury. The easy answer is that he needs races, but he isn't entered for today's Diamond League meet in Stockholm. He and Coach Mills have obviously decided against racing there. It might just be that history's greatest sprinter needs less races than his competitors. Maybe.
His return places him in the middle of a philosophical dilemma. In 2006, authorities did a plea bargain - a swap of information for reduced punishment - with Justin Gatlin and allowed him the promise of a return to competition in four years when he otherwise would have been banned for life. Presumably, the information he provided helped to nab others involved in making and distributing illegal performance enhancers.
Third to Bolt and Yohan Blake in the Olympic 100m in 2012 and second to Bolt in the last World Championships, the American has been brilliant. His tainted past has fans and commentators alike worried. Many believe that victory for him at the upcoming World Championships in Beijing would be bad for the sport.
The recent announcement that Gatlin is no longer eligible for the Athlete of the Year Award makes one thing clear. The sport is having second thoughts about allowing him back to the track in 2010. Whether Bolt wants to be the sport's saviour or not, he's stuck with the job. Every fan alive wants him to win those high-speed battles for the sport's soul in Beijing. He runs with them on his shoulders.
- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at track side since 1980.