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Life after Bolt: Who will become the world's greatest sprinter?

RT sports columnist Simon Barnes analyses the contenders that could pick up Usain Bolt's crown

Published: Monday, 9th April 2018 at 11:12 am

The dominant figure in the biggest event of the Commonwealth Games won’t actually be taking part. Those out there on the running track will be doing all they can to excise him from their minds, as if he had never existed: You Know Who. Him. He Who Must Not Be Named.


But the fact is that Usain has shot his bolt. The greatest champion of all time has stepped down: and that means that the future of the sprint races starts right there on the Gold Coast of Australia – on the B of Bang. Usain Bolt has left a legacy; he has also created a vacancy. Big-time sprinting is no longer a contest for the silver medal.

The Commonwealth Games is the first major championships since Bolt retired: the manoeuvring for the title of fastest man in the world begins with the final of the 100m.

For the past decade Bolt was the most important figure in world sport. But we’re not going to find the new Usain Bolt in this race, any more than we’re going to find the new David Attenborough; unique figures can’t be replaced.

But its not about replacing Bolt: it’s about winning here and seeing what follows. For slightly less than ten seconds, it’s about who’s first out of the blocks and who’s ahead at the finish.

The Americans won’t be there, of course, and that includes the world champion – and twice-convicted drugs cheat – Justin Gatlin. But Jamaica, for ten years the world’s unstoppable sprinting factory, will be.

You can look at those who ran in their series of golden relay teams with the Nameless One and expect to find a champion there. But Asafa Powell has withdrawn with a hamstring injury: will that make it possible for Bolt’s old training partner Yohan Blake to stop being an attendant lord and become the prince at last?

Blake is now 28; he took the silver in the 100m at the London Olympics of 2012, behind Bolt. He has gone for a crook-fingered “beast” mime when his name is announced; alas, that only makes him look like Bolt Lite.

Look beyond Jamaica and there are some decent prospects. One of the most promising is Akani Simbine of South Africa, who was fifth at the Rio Olympics in 2016, running 9.94 seconds. His personal best is 9.89. Is there more in the tank?

Then there’s England’s Adam Gemili. He’s fast all right, and at 24 is coming up to this peak. He had a football career at Dagenham and Redbridge, but was generally considered too fast for his own good, tending to overrun the ball.

Now he’s a fulltime sprinter, and he was a member of Great Britain’s gold medal-winning team in the 4x100m relay at the World Championships last year. Does he have what it takes to rise to a big occasion?

Because it’s not every athlete who can take on the theatricality and intensity of a major 100m final. The greatest find the best of themselves in the most stressful of circumstances: in a way, that’s what sport means. And it was perhaps the most important of Bolt’s many assets.

But the overwhelming majority of people in sport – no matter how much talent they may possess or what they may say to the contrary – are happier avoiding the loneliness of being the champion. That’s why great champions are so rare; that’s why great champions are so great.


Commonwealth Games: Men’s 100m Final is on Monday from 1.00pm BBC2


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