Fri | Aug 18, 2017

With Bolt leaving, Olympic track starts search for new faces

Published:Monday | August 22, 2016 | 8:00 AM
Usain Bolt salutes the crowd after winning the 200 metres gold medal at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in Brazil.
Jamaica's women's 4x400m relay team (from left) Novlene Williams-Mills, Shericka Jackson, Anneisha McLaughlin and Stephenie-Ann McPherson pose with their silver medals.
Jamaica's men's 4x400 metres silver medallists (from left) Peter Matthews, Javon Francis, Nathon Allen and Fitzroy Dunkley celebrate their performance.
IOC President Thomas Bach (front, left) hands the Olympic flag over to Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike during the closing ceremony in the Maracana stadium at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, yesterday.
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP):

Usain Bolt is leaving and insists he's not coming back.

How will track and field ever be the same?

The departure of the sport's most electric athlete from the Olympics certainly makes the Tokyo Games feel like a less enticing prospect.

That's hardly the only issue track and field faces as it tries to clean up its act and find some new headliners before 2020.

A look at what the sport might look like - needs to look like? - four years from now.

SPRINT GAME

Somebody will have to claim centre stage in the marquee events, the men's sprints. The early candidate is 21-year-old AndrÈ de Grasse of Canada.

As a teen, he ran one of his first races wearing basketball shorts and borrowed shoes. He stood up in the blocks while others crouched. It launched his career and led him to signing a big contract with Puma - the same company that sponsors Bolt.

In his own small way, de Grasse may have helped nudge the narrative of Bolt's story in Rio a bit off line. His pushing of Bolt in the 200-metre semi-final - probably unnecessary and maybe even a bit reckless - made for the only real 'race' the Jamaican faced all week.

Bolt conceded that push-to-the-finish semi-final played into his inability to break his 200-metre world record a night later in the final. A small victory for de Grasse, even if it was a loss for everyone else.

"I was just happy to be part of history with him," said the Canadian, who finished second in the 200 final, and third in the 100. "If people are talking about him, they're probably talking about me, that I was in the same race."

STARS AND STRIPES

Allyson Felix is 30. She has nine Olympic medals. Six are gold, a record for women on the track. After a long, hard season that didn't go the way she planned, she said Tokyo is nowhere in her thoughts.

"London," she said, speaking of next year's World Championships. "That's next on the agenda. As far as the next four years, taking it year by year."

When Felix goes, who can step in as the next great female American track star?

Here's a nod towards 400-metre hurdler Sydney McLaughlin, who made her first Olympics at 17. McLaughlin is the junior world-record holder in the event who really wasn't thinking about the Olympics this year.

She made it to the semi-finals at the Olympics. Now, it's back for the start of her senior year of high school in New Jersey.

CRIME, DOPING, CORRUPTION

Once the action got going, a lot of this sport's troubles receded to the background. Still, the absence of the Russians could not be ignored. It was emblematic of a widescale doping crisis that has roots in the upper reaches of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).

President Sebastian Coe has taken over the organisation, but there are still questions about what he knew and when, while serving as vice-president under Lamine Diack, who is accused of using blackmail to help perpetrate the Russian doping scandal.

The IAAF banned Russia from the Olympics - all but long jumper Darya Klishina, who lived and trained in the United States - and many viewed that as a positive step, and one the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was unwilling to take regarding the rest of the Russians.

But the depths of the corruption in the IAAF and Russia will continue to be exposed after the Olympics end. The IAAF is undergoing changes, including grappling with a proposal to handle drug testing independently. For the sport's sake, this storyline needs to shift well before Tokyo.

RELAY MATTERS

The 32 medals the US grabbed pretty much hit the mark that Duffy Mahoney, the chief of sport performance for USA Track and Field, predicted if the Russians didn't show.

The US won gold in three relays. Not bad. Oh, but that fourth one. The men's 4x100 team flamed out again with an illegal pass of the baton. The US is medal-less in that event for the past three Olympics, hasn't won gold since 2000 and it can't all be blamed on the pressures of racing Bolt.

There have been so many studies and working groups and practice plans for this team and none of them really work.

One suggestion: Find runners who want to make relays their top priority. Take a look at the programme in Japan, which captured a silver medal Friday night.

A MODEST PROPOSAL

The final scene of Bolt in action on the track came in the wee hours of Saturday morning. He was throwing a javelin. Think of the possibilities.

Yes, he says his Olympic career is over, but also concedes his coach, Glen Mills, has told him not to rush into retirement.

In the past, Bolt has talked about trying the long jump. More realistic - how about a return to the 400 metres that was once tabbed as his second race, after the 200?

He hates the training, but you could see a little gleam in his eyes after South Africa's Wayde van Niekerk broke Michael Johnson's 17-year-old world record and set the mark at 43.03.

Only two guys really ever

had a chance to break that, Bolt said: van Niekerk, of course, and himself.

Bolt turned 30 yesterday. He's got four or five decades of retired life ahead.

What to do?

"I don't know, I don't know," he said. "You just stressed me out."