With fewer than 30 days before the Olympics get underway in London, trials are coming to a close. Despite all the races and events on display during one of the biggest sporting competitions on earth, the men’s 100m final is the most anticipated and this year’s could be the best yet.
Before the Jamaican Olympic trials, the 100m picture was pretty clear ahead of London 2012. All eyes were on the current Olympic champion and world record holder Usain Bolt, but the world must now broaden its gaze.
The 100m final in Kingston, Jamaica surprised us all. It was not Bolt or Asafa Powell who finished the race as Jamaican champion, but Bolt’s training partner Yohan Blake. The 22 year-old finished the race in 9.75 seconds, 0.11s ahead of Bolt and the fourth fastest time in history.
Young Blake hasn’t come out of nowhere to stun the world’s fastest man, however. Blake became the youngest ever world champion in 2011 in Daegu after Bolt was disqualified for a false start. He also made his mark in the 200m last September in Brussels, recording a time of 19.26, second only to Usain Bolt’s world record of 19.19.
It seems Bolt will have his hands full with Powell and now Johan Blake gunning for Olympic Gold this summer, but this is only including his fellow countrymen.
Contenders from America
Now, a discussion about a 100m final would not be complete without mentioning a couple of Americans and the USA has produced a surprise of their own. However, it was not a young runner, but the controversial figure of Justin Gatlin who stunned fellow contender Tyson Gay.
In 2007, Gatlin was banned from track and field for four years after testing positive for a banned substance but he has returned as quick as ever. The 30 year-old’s return has not exactly been celebrated in the athletics world, but no one could deny his win at the USA Olympic trials. In the 100m final he faced second fastest man on record Tyson Gay and produced a run of 9.80 seconds, with Gay finishing second in 9.86.
Gatlin has also recorded a win over Jamaican Asafa Powell in Doha as part of the Diamond League circuit and his victory over Gay proved that was not a one off.
This has now become a bigger picture than usual, but it looks to be Jamaica vs USA for the 100m in London. What is clear is that a medallist from Europe is unlikely.
Mind the gap, Europe
The European Championship produced no reason for anyone to think otherwise. 22 year-old Christophe Lemaitre is the fastest man over 100m in Europe, but his championship winning time was not good enough to worry the trio from Jamaica or the pair from the USA.
He is young, but so is Yohan Blake. 10.09 seconds was quick enough to beat fellow Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut to retain his European title, but it is not close to what is needed to keep up with the likes of Gatlin, Powell, Blake et al.
If Lemaitre can produce a personal best, he will push to the end of the race. A better time than 9.92 seconds and a bit of luck could see the Frenchman break the top five, but a top six finish would be no embarrassment.
What to expect
The 100m Olympic gold medal is up for grabs. Bolt, Powell and Blake from Jamaica and Gay and Gatlin from the USA are all fast enough to win. The three Jamaicans are fast enough to produce a Jamaican 1,2,3, while the Americans could produce a surprise 1,2 finish.
This could be the greatest 100m race in recent years, if no one makes a mistake in the heats. In the realms of possibility, the top five, may be six, could all finish under 10 seconds. This promises to be the fastest final we’ve ever seen.
The picture is suddenly blurred. Two weeks ago the question was ‘Can Bolt produce another world record?’ The question now is, ‘Can Bolt hold on to his Olympic title?’
By Chris Heathman
Follow Chris on Twitter @CHeathman