Go­ing for gold

Can the Ja­maican star save ath­let­ics?

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - HAVE YOUR SAY Can Usain Bolt make his­tory in Rio? Tweet @7DAYSSPORT

Since he coasted to the 100m fin­ish line in world-record time at the Bird’s Nest eight years ago, Usain Bolt has been the smil­ing face of track and field. He has served as the an­chor­man of the Olympics - vir­tu­ally the only rea­son any casual fan would pay at­ten­tion to a sport that has or­ches­trated its own slow, sad, drug-in­fused down­fall.

His ten­der ham­string im­prov­ing, Bolt will be back for a fi­nal go-round at Olympic glory when the ath­let­ics start in Rio on Au­gust 12.

If, as ex­pected, he wins all three sprint events - the 100m, 200m and 4x100m re­lay - he’ll only add to his legacy and ce­ment him­self at the fore of any con­ver­sa­tion about “Great­est Olympian Ever”. He is al­ready the first per­son to win back-to-back Olympic gold at 100 and 200 me­tres.

Whether viewed over the six days he runs in Rio, or over the eight years he’s graced the world with his once-in-al­ife­time mix of speed, smiles and show­man­ship, the world’s fastest man has of­fered ath­let­ics a re­prieve from the waste­land of cor­rupt coun­tries, reshuf­fled medals and win-at-any-cost malfea­sance it has be­come.

Rus­sian ath­letes will be ab­sent from this year’s Olympic track meet - banned by the sport’s gov­ern­ing body, the IAAF, which con­trib­uted to the prob­lems as much as solved them over the years.

Even with those 67 ath­letes out of the mix, the 10-day meet is bound to be filled with sus­pi­cious glances among the 2,000-plus run­ners, throw­ers and jumpers who will be present - all won­der­ing if they’ll get a fair shot in a sport that once de­fined the Olympics but is hurt­ing be­cause its lead­ers have proven them­selves ei­ther un­will­ing or un­able to stop all the cheat­ing.

Rus­sia’s world-record pole vaulter, Ye­lena Is­in­bayeva, is among those stay­ing home. She says the re­main­ing track-and-field ath­letes will be com­pet­ing only for “pseudo-gold” medals with­out the Rus­sians run­ning in Rio. That’s not so much Bolt’s con­cern. Over the past four years, only one man, Amer­i­can Justin Gatlin - the 2004 100m gold medal­ist who, him­self, has served two dop­ing bans - has been able to se­ri­ously chal­lenge Bolt at ei­ther 100 or 200 me­tres. More than rac­ing against Gatlin, though, Bolt is rac­ing against the clock - and into his­tory.

And yet, the dop­ing scourge doesn’t elude him, ei­ther. His re­lay medal from 2008 is in jeop­ardy now, thanks to retests con­ducted by the IOC that in­di­cate team­mate Nesta Carter could have used a banned sub­stance. In the past, the IOC has stripped en­tire re­lay teams of medals even when only one per­son dopes. At al­most ev­ery stop he makes, Bolt is asked about dop­ing.

In an in­ter­view be­fore his tune-up race in Lon­don in July, he showed off the BandAid cov­er­ing the mark where testers had drawn their lat­est tube full of blood.

“Rules are rules and dop­ing vi­o­la­tions in track and field is get­ting re­ally bad, so if you feel like you need to make a state­ment then thumbs up,” Bolt said of the Rus­sian ban.

He has never tested pos­i­tive, has mostly man­aged to smile through the thinly veiled ques­tions about his own dop­ing virtue, and, when the stakes are great­est, has rarely failed to put on a show peo­ple want to watch.

The next act starts with 100m qual­i­fy­ing on Au­gust 13. Bolt, who turns 30 on the day of the clos­ing cer­e­mony in Rio, has said he’ll hang up the spikes af­ter an en­core sea­son in 2017, but more re­cently has left the door slightly cracked for rac­ing be­yond that.

When he does leave, his sport will start the search for a new face - a new dis­trac­tion, per­haps, from the prob­lems that come at this sport from al­most ev­ery an­gle.

‘If you feel like you need to make a state­ment then thumbs up.’ – USAIN BOLT

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.