The unthinkable happened in the early hours of our Saturday morning. Usain Bolt, the man who was perceived to have one rival in the Olympic 100 metres final, namely The Clock, lost to his training partner Yohan Blake.
The result in the Jamaican trials was met by dumbstruck faces among the crowd. Blake had won in 9.75sec, a personal best and the fastest anyone has run this year. Bolt was 0.11sec behind, separated by daylight having made a dismal start.
The third member of the island’s male sprinting trinity, Asafa Powell, was third, 0.02sec further back.
It was balm for those who have paid £750 for the best seats at the Olympic 100m final. But it was time to put a brake on some of the fawning mythology that continued to build up around Bolt even as his magic waned over the last couple of years.
The biggest bet of my life was placed at the Writers’ Bar in Raffles, the great colonial hotel in Singapore. It concerned that old rogue Max Mosley and I lost.
The second largest, though mercifully a 10th of the size, was wagered the other week close to the home of the first modern Olympics, the Panathenaic Stadium, Athens. So £100 says Bolt will not win the blue riband of sprinting on the stomach-churning evening of Sunday, August 5.
The evidence suggests Bolt has struggled for fitness and form since he moved the boundaries of human achievement in 2009 by winning the world title in 9.58sec, a year after his chest-thumping procession at the Beijing Games.After partying too hard in 2010, he lost to America’s Tyson Gay over 100m.
In 2011, he was disqualified for a false start in the World Championships final in Daegu.
The belief here, mostly viewed as maverick at the time, is that the error was born of his desperation for a good getaway given his fearfulness of Blake in the next lane.
That interpretation is shared by Maurice Greene, the American who won the 100m gold in Sydney and is now a trenchant pundit on Eurosport. “There was so much pressure on him,” he said. “There is a reason why Bolt and Blake hardly race against each other. Last season Usain was getting his stuff together. Then they line up and he knows he has to get it right or the dude is right beside him. He’s got to go as soon as that gun goes off. And what happens? He goes too early.
“Bolt was not confident last year. After all the antics, you see his facial expression change a bit. His last 50m is fine but the first 50m is more technical. If he doesn’t get that beginning together, it gets close. If it’s a close race, he’s lost. He doesn’t know how to compete in those circumstances.
“He has a lot of talent and is very fast but has no plan. He goes out there to run but I don’t think he knows exactly what he’s doing.”
My recent trip to Jamaica showed a Bolt at least partly at odds with the clowning, chilled, happy-go-lucky persona we see on the start line. His retinue, led by his best friend NJ Walker, keep him closely guarded.
I was invited to watch him train but he did not show up. According to his people and his website, he was due to run for the first time this season just a few days after I left the island, yet he pulled out at the last minute and instead went to see his doctor in Munich. I reported that he had made an “unexpected” medical trip, which sent at least one of his representatives into meltdown.
Only three weeks ago his car crashed at 5.15am on a Sunday.
Powell, his great rival, was on the scene but in a separate car. Had they been partying? Or was there another explanation? Whatever the real story with Bolt, Greene is certain of one thing. “If he is in similar shape as he was in China, we will see some fireworks,” he said.
“If he puts his mind on it he could do 9.4sec, do anything. But if he races as he did last year, he will get beaten, possibly by Blake, possibly by one of the Americans. He’s trying to do something he can’t do. He’s not flowing.
“He talks about wanting to be a living legend. Yes, fine, but is he doing all that is necessary to become that living legend? Are you? You have to be truthful to yourself. I’ve seen some of his practice and he’s not really working.
“I’d tell him to be serious. You can look at him run in China and two years afterwards it has all changed. He’s doing different things. He has to study what he was doing back then and emulate that. There were not as many flaws as then.”
Bolt has five weeks minus one day to find his feet in the 100m. – Daily Mail