We’ve all seen the ad: wearing a hood that conceals his identity and walking through the streets of London, the man we eventually see is Usain Bolt declares to the audience, “I will not stop until there is no competition left on the planet.”
Four years ago, anyone who saw that ad wouldn’t have questioned the message that Bolt was trying to send—first of all that he loves Gatorade chews, because the endorsement money is doing wonders for his 401k, but also that he is bar-none the best athlete in the Olympic track and field sprint events.
Now, people wonder if Bolt has the stamina and speed that allowed him to obliterate the competition and win three gold medals in Beijing in 2008.
Following his overwhelming 200-meter dash victory in Beijing, in which he broke American Michael Johnson’s long standing world record by finishing in a blistering time of 19.30 seconds, there was a great deal of speculation as to whether Bolt could become the first man ever to run a sub-19 second 200 meters.
But at the Jamaican Olympic trials earlier this month, Bolt was less than spectacular, qualifying second in the 200 meters with a time of 19.83 seconds, a far more human performance than he’s shown in the past. The victor was relative newcomer Yohan Blake, widely considered to be the X-factor in this most important track meet.
Blake, who is Bolt’s training partner, seemingly came out of nowhere to defeat bolt by three-hundredths of a second in the 200 meters and again by a close margin in the 100 meters.
Bolt’s “lapse” began following a false start at the 2011 World Championships that left him disqualified and allowed Blake to eventually win the race in his first ever World Championship meet. Bolt would later go on to win the 200 meters and contribute to Jamaica’s gold medal performance in the 4X100 meter relay.
The track and field community has had a growing concern that perhaps the world’s fastest man is dealing with a nagging injury, which Bolt more or less confirmed during a pre-Olympic press conference.
“I’m always ready. It’s all about championships. I’ve had slight problems, but I’m ready to go,” Bolt said.
“I’m going to focus on going out there to win. My back was a little stiff and it affected my hamstring but I’m over that. I’ve been training for the past two-and-a-half weeks and everything is all right.”
A less-than-perfect Bolt is still, frighteningly, a constant threat to win gold.
His only major competition in the 200 meters is Blake, but the 100-meter dash is as wide open as ever.
Bolt, Blake and Asafa Powell of Jamaica as well as Tyson Gay and the resurgent Justin Gatlin of the United States all seemingly have gold medal speed, making for an exciting Olympic final.
The single heat will likely host three world record holders in Powell, Bolt and Gatlin, whose 9.766 second run from 2006 was cleared from the record books following a recent doping ban.
The questions surrounding Bolt arguably make for London’s biggest story, rivaling Michael Phelps’s grand finale and showdown with fellow American Ryan Lochte.
Regardless of whether or not the “rest of the competition on the planet” stops Bolt on his quest for three additional gold medals, he is almost certain to not go home empty-handed.
With Powell, Bolt and Blake all on staff, Jamaica’s “murderer’s row” of a 4X100 meter relay team is again the overwhelming favorite to win gold.
“Sure thing” races aside, these next two will be huge for the rest of Bolt’s career—we could be either left with a triumphant, chest-pounding Bolt or a dejected, retirement-contemplating version.