Thu | Jan 18, 2018

Hubert Lawrence | Golden farewell for Bolt?

Published:Thursday | June 15, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Usain Bolt at the National Stadium last Saturday night as he prepares to compete in his last 100 metres race locally at the 2017 JN Racers Grand Prix.

The only trouble with Saturday's heart-warming Usain Bolt goodbye is that he isn't retired yet. Ahead of him is the IAAF World Championships in London. The 100 metres there could turn out to be the greatest challenge he will ever face on the track.

Bolt, the best sprinter of all time, deservedly got a hero's farewell from a full National Stadium. Yet, London won't be easy. His rivals there surely know that the only route to world recognition is through Bolt. To win, even to dominate, after the tall man retires, won't mean as much as a win in London.

Their mission runs headlong into Bolt's quest for a golden farewell.

Quite rightly, Canada's Andre De Grasse is aiming to win. After 100 metres bronze medals in the 2015 World Championships and the Olympics, De Grasse is the heir apparent to Bolt and Justin Gatlin. Even with the arrival of South African super sprinter, De Grasse is the favourite in the 200 metres, but winning the 100m would be even more special.

Gatlin has been Bolt's most consistent challenger since 2012. Bronze behind Bolt and Blake at the London Olympics has been followed by runner-up finishes in two World Championships and the 2016 Olympics. At 35, retirement probably beckons for him, too, so a gold medal in defeating Bolt would be a perfect going-away present.

Despite the fast midseason sprinting by young American Christian Coleman, Bolt's training partner, Yohan Blake, is probably the biggest danger. Brilliantly coached by Glen Mills, Blake is due a good year. Terrible injuries erased his 2013 and 2014 seasons and 2015 served only to build his fitness confidence. That rolled Blake into fourth place at 9.93 seconds in the 100m behind Bolt, Gatlin and De Grasse at the Olympics.

Now he has clicked off 2017 dashes of 9.93 and 9.97 seconds. Each time he has held something in reserve. Surely, a return to sub-9.9 territory isn't far off.

De Grasse hasn't gone there yet and will need to accelerate his 100m personal best of 9.91 seconds to trouble Bolt and Gatlin.

These threats are real. They could be insurmountable if the incomparable Bolt isn't able to focus after the death of his close friend Germaine Mason and in the months after his retirement 'began' in spectacular style on Saturday. He needs to keep the switch in the 'on' position.

On the plus side for Bolt is his proven ability to be ready on the days that count the most. He showed it with world records to win at the 2008 Olympics and the 2009 World Championships. Since then, he has run a season's best in every major final he has contested. If he arrives in London in that mood, the golden farewell will come a lot more readily.

- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.