Aug 05, 01:28 PM ET
By Doug Harrison, CBC Sports
Jamaican sprinter is nevertheless upbeat as he eyes elite company with 9 Olympic track titles
Usain Bolt is in Rio looking to make Olympic history but his attempt probably will be made at less than full strength.
How healed the sprinter is from a hamstring injury ahead of running the 100, 200, and 4×100 metre relay events will be a hot topic in Brazil.
“I’m not fully in shape. I need more work but over time I will be fine,” Bolt told reporters two weeks ago after winning the 200 in 19.89 seconds at the London Diamond League meet.
Five weeks ago at the Jamaican Olympic trials, the 29-year-old withdrew from the 100 just minutes before the final and also didn’t run the 200 because of a Grade 1 hamstring tear.
The problem is, hamstring injuries can linger if not given sufficient rest. Bolt was hampered by a hamstring injury and had foot surgery two years ago ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland, and an ailing right hamstring forced him to withdraw from Monaco Diamond League leading up to the 2012 London Olympics.
“Especially at the start of last year I noticed that injuries take a little bit more time to get back to where you want to be,” Bolt told reporters before travelling to Rio.
“I don’t think anyone on the planet, minus three or four people, probably know what Usain Bolt’s full diagnosis is,” Trent Stellingwerff, head physiologist for Athletics Canada, told CBC Sports.
Looking for Rio sweep
“I’ve seen people come back from hamstring issues and Grade 1 [tears] in a couple of weeks and been pretty good. It’ll be interesting to see how this story plays out.”
He didn’t show any ill effects at the recent London event, pulling away from his seven opponents after a decent start at the old Olympic Stadium.
The world record holder in the 100 (9.58) and 200 (19.19) is looking to sweep those events as well as the relay for a third straight Games. Bolt is already the only man to sweep them at consecutive Olympics. Should he sweep in Rio, Bolt would share the record of nine Olympic track and field titles with Finnish middle- and long-distance runner Paavo Nurmi and American sprinter Carl Lewis.
But Bolt’s name might not be put alongside Nurmi and Lewis for long if Nesta Carter, Bolt’s Jamaican relay teammate from 2008, is confirmed a drug cheat after it was reported in June that he had failed a doping test.
Among Bolt’s other career achievements:
- 11 world championship gold medals, including the 100, 200 and relay tiles at the 2009, 2013 and 2015 events
- Gold in the 200 and 4×100 at the 2011 worlds
- At 15, he became the youngest world junior gold medallist after winning the 200
- Two-time recipient of the IAAF World Athlete of the Year
In March, Bolt said he wanted to run sub-19 seconds in the 200 and was planning to win three gold medals at the Rio Games.
There will certainly be no shortage of athletes looking to dethrone Bolt, who also won the 100 at the Racers Grand Prix in Kingston, Jamaica, in June and a month earlier at the Golden Spike meet.
Justin Gatlin, who qualified for Rio with a 9.80 at the U.S. trials on July 3, vowed in February he would beat Bolt in Brazil. Victories in his only three Diamond League competitions this season has helped vault the U.S. sprinter to world No. 1 status entering the Olympics while Bolt is ranked Nos. 4 and 5 in the 100 and 200, respectively.
Bolt, however, holds a 7-1 career advantage over his rival and won the most recent matchup in the 100 at last year’s worlds with a time of 9.79, compared to 9.80 for the 34-year-old Gatlin.
Gatlin shows respect for Bolt
Adding to the much-anticipated Gatlin-Bolt showdown is their low-intensity war of words as the Games approached. Gatlin suggested, not strongly, that Bolt got preferential treatment by being allowed to skip the Jamaican trials.
Bolt laughed at the notion but at the same time was disappointed. In Rio, he would prefer to let his running do the talking.
“The more I run the faster I’ll get,” he said. “I always have little doubts in my mind [about my health] but I’m focused and ready to go.
“It’s going to be a long time, I think, before somebody comes who will be as talented as me to break my records.”