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Think fast: US sprinters still expect Bolt at Olympics

Published:Tuesday | July 5, 2016 | 7:01 AM

EUGENE, Oregon (AP):

It's a sport built on speed and at the US Olympic Track and Field Trials on Saturday, sprinters wasted no time drawing conclusions about Usain Bolt's summertime itinerary.

The consensus: He'll be in Rio.

For the second straight day, the Jamaican sprinter's hamstring was Topic No. 1 in the track world. If Bolt is seriously hurt, the entire Olympics will take on a new perspective, whether it's Bolt at less-than-full strength or - still unthinkable at this point - absent altogether.

Not that anyone going through preliminary rounds in Eugene was worried about that.

"Crazy stuff always happens in an Olympic year," said Bolt's main challenger, Justin Gatlin. "Like anyone else, you have to see what's going to happen. But c'mon. We're going to see his face in Rio one way or another."

Gatlin, Tyson Gay, Mike Rodgers and Trayvon Bromell all advanced easily through the first round of the 100 on a sunny, 83-degree day that produced little in the way of top-line surprises.

Meanwhile, a continent away in Kingston, few clues emerged the day after Bolt, the 29-year-old world-record holder, pulled out of his national championships, posting a picture of himself on Twitter with electrical-stimulation pads stuck to his hamstring and the message: "Starting the recovery process right away."

What is known is that Jamaica's rules are much less restrictive than those in the United States, which allow the top three finishers in each event to qualify, with no exceptions for injuries or past performances.

 

'Seen this before'

 

Per Jamaica's rules, Bolt can earn his spot in the 100m and 200m if he can show he's fit enough; that judgement call has to be made by July 18, when Olympic rosters are due.

"I feel like it's a cop-out. He should run like anybody else," said Rodgers, the 2009 US champion at 100 metres. "But at the end of the day, he's Bolt. He's the Olympic champ. He's the World champ. Until someone beats him, puts him in his place, he's going to do what he wants to do."

Indeed, there was more eye-rolling than genuine concern among the US sprinters, who feel like they've seen this before.

In 2012, Bolt ran at Jamaica's nationals, but finished second to Yohan Blake in both the 100m and 200m, not far removed from a minor car crash and dealing with some leg issues. Bolt was injured in the lead-up to World Championships last year, but nonetheless edged Gatlin in the 100m and blew by him in the 200m.

Now, this.

"It's a tradition," said Gay, who once was Bolt's main challenger.

Gatlin said years ago, he might have heard about an injury to Bolt "and thought I hit the lottery".

What did the injury do to his thought process this time?

"Nothing," Gatlin said. "Being a veteran, you can't let that change you."

Gatlin didn't want to get sucked into a conversation of whether he'd like to see Bolt at his best when he gets to Brazil later in the summer. The Americans still had to get through two more rounds of the 100m on Sunday to secure their spots on the Olympic team.

It's a format they've long dealt with and accept, even if it adds some strain, coming only six weeks before the Games begin.

"If I was Bolt in Jamaica, I'd probably pull out, too," said Shawn Crawford, the 2004 Olympic gold medallist at 200 metres, who now coaches American sprinter Jeneba Tarmoh. "I know my training isn't up to where I want it to be, so I'd let them race and I'll just go home and train. I know they're going to put me on the team. You can't do that here. If you could, I'm sure there'd be a lot of people who'd pull out."