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Bolt, Fraser-Pryce chasing history in Beijing

Published:Thursday | August 20, 2015 | 8:00 AMGregory Spalding
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Jamaica's triple gold medal duo from the 2013's Moscow edition of the IAAF World Athletics Championships, Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, are slated to defend their 100m titles in the Bird's Nest over the weekend.

Both athletes won gold at 100m, 200m and 4x100m in Moscow two years ago, and the Jamaican track and field 'Royals' will be chasing historic wins at these championships.

The defending champions have had somewhat differing seasons leading up to the Championships. Fraser-Pryce, who became only the third athlete in history, after Silke Gladisch (1987) and Katrin Krabbe (1991) to take the sprint double at the IAAF World Championships, is ready to face the starter in the marquee female event.

She is the 2015 world leader in the 100m with a season best 10.74 seconds, which was done at the Stade de France on July 4. On the day, the two-time World 100m champion was comfortably ahead of 2014 Commonwealth champion, Blessing Okagbare, who finished second in 10:80.

Contrastingly, Bolt's season has been one of quiet preparation and strategic management. Before his London test execution, Bolt's best time in the 100m since September 6, 2013 was 9.98 seconds. He had only raced over 100m three times in that span, his 2014 season was cut short by a March foot surgery and he pulled out of meets recently, citing a pelvic injury.

The world record holder is expected to face the sternest test of his post-2008 career in Beijing. The much anticipated duel between the current Olympic champion and the last American to have held that title, Justin Gatlin, will be contested in the stadium where Jamaica overthrew the former world power of sprinting, the United States.

Gatlin booked his ticket to the IAAF World Championships with his 2014 Diamond League crown in the 100 metres. Since then, he has been the man to beat, posting the top four times for 2015 and being the only man to go below 9.80 seconds, doing it a whopping four times mid-May. His best time, 9.74, was posted on May 15.

The powerfully built American returned to international competition in 2010 after a four-year doping suspension. Since then, he and Bolt have met in head-to-head races only a handful of times, with the mild-mannered Gatlin winning just once. But he is not short on self-belief and thinks he's the big man of the season.

In 2014, while Bolt sat out most of the year with a foot injury, Gatlin dominated the circuit with world-leading times of 9.77 and 19.68 seconds in the 100 and 200 metres, respectively.

Bolt skipped the Jamaican trials in June, but showcased his sprinting acumen in London in July, where he appeared to be rounding into form just in time for another World title. He clocked 9.87 seconds in two 100m races in a little over a one-hour interval. He won his preliminary heat into a 1.2 mps headwind, which upped the ante for a showdown with Gatlin in Beijing.

London's victory came against a field that did not include Gatlin or World champs medal contenders Tyson Gay (9.87, June 26) and Asafa Powell (9.81, July 4), who is the second fastest man in the world this year to date.

Powell has been far more relaxed in preparatory competitions since his return to the sport. He is aiming to redeem himself after exclusion for a doping violation and is eager to rid himself of the title of the fastest man never to have won a World title.

 

Race for bronze

 

The race for bronze in Beijing will also see the likes of the USA's fast-starting Mike Rodgers (9.88, July 11) and new kid on the block, Trayvon Bromell (9.84, June 25), who are aiming for their first taste of podium finishes on the big stage.

With Nesta Carter not in the best of sprinting shape for an individual medal and Commonwealth Champion Kemar Bailey-Cole out due to injury, projection is that Powell should take the Beijing bronze at 100m, before resting to assist Jamaica's relay redemption.

Powell, though, will have to resist an ever-determined Gay if he wants to enhance his legacy.

Aged 33, Gatlin has clocked 9.80 or faster six times since September 6, 2013. He is the world leader entering Saturday's first round and is arguably the World Championships' favourite in the 100m and 200m.

Bolt's world records are 9.58 and 19.19 in both events, respectively. He has the psychological, if not physical advantage over all rivals. And age advantage aside, he has far more head-to-head wins, more titles and is the fastest man of all times.

Doubt surrounds whether Bolt will take the double this time around. Gatlin's 19.57 makes him the fifth-fastest 200m performer in track and field history and is the fastest 200m time in the world since Usain Bolt's 19.32 in 2012 at the London Olympics. Gatlin is the definite pre-race favourite for the Beijing 200m.

 

No sprint doubles

 

Prediction is that we will not see a double sprint champion at these Games. But let's see what the Championship brings.

Among the women, Fraser-Pryce is the blessed and highly favoured sprinter.

The United States' Tori Bowie was the closest to Fraser-Pryce in Stockholm, with 11.05 to the two-time Olympic champion's 10.93 cruise control clocking. But the fastest American for 2015 is English Gardner, who had a 10.79 clocking four days prior, in more sprinter-friendly weather in Eugene, Oregon, at the US Senior Outdoor Trials on June 26.

Bowie was also second at these trials in a time of 10.81 seconds. On that day, Fraser-Pryce won the Jamaican Senior Trials in 10.79 seconds. The wind gauge readings of 1.5 versus 0.4m/s were used by track and field purists to ratify which was the better performance - the differential significant enough to sanction Fraser-Pryce's time as being bona fide.

Fraser-Pryce will be joined by three other Jamaicans in the 100m - the indomitable Veronica Campbell-Brown, Natasha Morrison and the resolute Sherone Simpson.

After winning efforts at the last World Championship, Fraser-Pryce was quoted as saying: "I still have to run 10.6."

With that mindset, Jamaica should gain gold via Fraser-Pryce. Her race execution on the world stage is far superior to her current rivals, such that she will have breathing space and leg room to manoeuvre at the finish.

Blessing Okagbare is projected to gain silver, but the bronze will be a toss-up between Campbell-Brown and the American duo of Bowie and Gardner.