London – Yohan Blake has long lurked in the shadows cast by Jamaican team-mates Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell – but after some stunning results, “The Beast” has suddenly roared to prominence.
Blake was far from an unknown when he claimed the world 100m title in Daegu, South Korea, last year after Bolt sensationally false-started in the final.
But his exploits in the Jamaican trials of beating Bolt, the 100m and 200m world record-holder and Olympic champion, over both distances sent a ripple through the world of athletics.
Blake's personal best of 9.75sec in the 100m makes him the fourth fastest sprinter of all time after Bolt, American Tyson Gay and Powell. His 19.26sec in the 200m is the second fastest ever after Bolt.
A worthy, potential successor has been truly unearthed, coached at the Racers Track Club in Kingston by Glen Mills, the same man who has overseen Bolt's transformation into one of global sport's most marketable names.
“Win, lose or draw we are friends, even though it is business and he wants to win and I want to win,” the 22-year-old Blake has said of his friendship with Bolt.
Blake, nicknamed “The Beast” for his stocky frame – standing 1.80m (5ft 11in) and weighing 80kg Ä – said training alongside Bolt had been a big boost to his career.
“Every time in training I want to win but he's always there. So I say, 'OK, how am I going to win on the big day?'
“That's why some of the time I tend to be at the front so when I get on the track I can say, 'OK, I beat him in training'.”
With Bolt having suffered a rocky, injury-hit build-up to London, and Powell perpetually injury-prone before big events, Blake – who received a three-month ban in 2009 for taking a drug that had a similar chemical structure to the banned tuaminoheptane – has the perfect chance to shine.
He set two world leads of 9.75 and 19.80sec at the Olympic trials, and promised that there was more to come.
“It's not over,” he said. “I still have the Olympics to go. I just wanted to keep performing and keep going.”
Track legend Michael Johnson has said Blake was a “legitimate challenger” to Bolt, adding that the defending champion would have to be at his best.
“Yohan Blake showed he will take advantage when Bolt does not perform at his best,” said Johnson, who won four Olympic gold medals at 200m, 400m and 4x400m relay.
“Bolt now has a legitimate challenger and will need to be at his best in London to defend his Olympic title.”
Blake was meant to appear at a pre-Olympic press conference alongside Bolt and Powell in the east end of London on Thursday, but the tyro never materialised, Jamaican officials saying he was “collecting his luggage”.
Bolt, however, was at pains to play down rumours of a rift between the two of them, even saying that they still followed the same training routine under Mills' tutelage.
“My relationship with 'The Beast' won't change at all. People were saying I was training early in the morning and Blake in the evening, but that's not true,” he said.
“We do everything or nearly everything (together). Training hasn't changed, only the atmosphere at competition.” – Sapa-AFP