It was as if the world had turned a little on its axis when the news came through. In the blistering Jamaican sunshine, Usain Bolt had been beaten in both the 100m and 200m. He hadn’t made a false start, or pulled up with an injury, he’d been defeated fair and square at the Olympic trials by Yohan Blake, his 22-year-old training partner.
There are few things that are guaranteed in international sport, but the one thing that seemed certain was that Bolt was the fastest man on Earth. He’d smashed the 100m world record in Beijing four years ago, then smashed it again and smashed it again. Now, suddenly, with the London Olympics just weeks away, the man nicknamed Lightning Bolt wasn’t running like the fastest man in the world. He wasn’t even running like the fastest man in Jamaica!
“Usain has been kind to me. He’s my friend and great training partner – he pushes me on, he motivates me. He is a good person,” says Blake, clearly still a believer in his training partner’s powers, even if he has just beaten Bolt twice in two days. “He will be ready for the Olympics and we will both run as fast as we can in London.”
Bolt now faces a battle for gold in August, and Blake isn’t his only challenger. Third in the Jamaican trials with 9.88 seconds was Asafa Powell, the forgotten man of sprinting, though not forgotten by Blake, who urges RT not to overlook Powell: “Maybe we could sweep the medals.” Powell held the 100m world record before Bolt, and sees himself as a real contender in London.
Meanwhile, across the Caribbean, great times were being run at the US Olympic trials, with the winner, 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, crossing the line in 9.80 seconds, 0.06 faster than Bolt ran in Jamaica. The London Games will be Gatlin’s first Olympics since his Athens gold and 2006 doping ban. The statistics from the trials make Blake number one contender with 9.75 seconds, followed by Gatlin, then Bolt.
But that’s not all… second in the US trials with 9.86 was Tyson Gay, still the second-fastest man in history over 100m, but who was hampered by injury in Beijing. If he can make the starting line injury-free, he’ll be a serious medal contender. So there are five men who could win gold in London: it could be the greatest 100m ever run.
The most interesting of the challengers for Bolt’s crown is Blake because at 22 he’s so young, and because he has been training with Bolt at Racers Track Club in Kingston. In the summer of 2008, Blake was just 18 and didn’t even make the Jamaican team for Beijing. But after the Olympics he moved to Kingston to train with Glen Mills, Bolt’s coach. He worked so hard, every day (in contrast to the much more laidback Bolt), that Bolt nicknamed him “the Beast”.
“Usain is not finished,” says Blake and he’s right. Bolt is only 25 and he wasn’t trying to win in Jamaica - he was trying to qualify, and he did that. Added to which he’s running pretty much how he ran before Beijing: then, in eight 100m races, he went under 9.80 twice and ran 9.85 at trials. This time he has run seven times and gone sub-9.80 twice, running 9.86 at the trials.
“Usain is on track,” says Mills. “He has the experience and ability to run fastest in the big races, when it matters. I'm not worried."
Can Anyone Beat Bolt, narrated by Reggie Yates with analysis from Michael Johnson, is on BBC3 tonight at 9:00pm