KINGSTON, Jamaica (Reuters) - Yohan Blake and not Usain Bolt may now be the man to beat in London Games but the mission remains the same with the ‘The Beast’ set to lead an all out assault by Jamaican sprinters on the Olympic medal podium.
A weekend of high-speed drama at the Jamaican Olympic trials sent shockwaves all the way to London as Blake handed triple Olympic champion and world record holder Bolt two stunning defeats in three days, capturing the 100 and 200 metres titles to severely dent his training partner’s aura of invincibility.
Almost overlooked in the excitement of the Bolt-Blake showdown was a shakeup at the top of the women’s sprints with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce sweeping the 100 and 200m events ahead Veronica Campbell-Brown, a double Olympic champion in the 200m.
While it is too early to tell if the events in Kingston signal a changing of the guard, it is clear that the King and Queen of Jamaican sprinting are under threat.
The ferocious competition within Jamaican sprinting ranks, however, is good news for the nation’s Olympic medal prospects.
“I expect similar if not better performances in London (than Beijing),” Jamaican Amateur Athletics Association (JAAA) president Dr. Warren Blake told Reuters.
Jamaica collected 11 medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
With the start of the Summer Games less than a month away, the athletics world had an eye on the four-day Jamaican trials looking for a hint of what they could see in London. What they saw was revealing.
Bolt ended the trials still in possession of his world records in the 100 (9.58) and 200 (19.19) but those and his Olympic titles could soon be in the hands of the powerful Blake, who heads to London brimming with confidence.
Blake grabbed the world’s attention clocking the best time of the year of 9.75 seconds to win the 100 and become the fourth fastest man of all-time behind Bolt (9.58), American Tyson Gay (9.69) and fellow-Jamaican compatriot Asafa Powell (9.72).
The sprinter fans know as ‘The Beast’ then followed up with an even more impressive effort in the 200m handing Bolt his first loss in the event in more than four years.
Fraser-Pryce, who led a Jamaican medals sweep in the 100m in Beijing, blazed to victory in 10.70 seconds, equaling the seventh fastest time. Only Americans Florence Griffith-Joyner, Carmelita Jeter and Marion Jones have gone faster.
The little powerhouse continued to set a sizzling pace with a convincing win in the women’s 200m, positioning herself to end Campbell-Brown’s reign over the half-lap.
The results further lifted Jamaican confidence ahead of London.
“I think our Jamaican athletes will prevail in the expected clashes with the Americans because I think man-for-man we are in a different league,” said Dr. Blake.
”In the women section it may be a little more competitive but I think our women will also prevail.
The Bolt-Blake rivalry is quickly shaping up as one of the most fascinating of the London Games.
Good friends and training partners, Bolt has mentored his young protege but the student turned teacher over the weekend, schooling the triple Olympic champion in a lesson in domination.
The Jamaican team mates have had only good words for each other but following his losses, Bolt made it clear his goal in London is to confirm his title as world’s fastest man.
“He (Yohan Blake) has really thrown the track and field world into a tailspin because as we know a lot of the marketing around the Olympics has been around the invincibility of Bolt and Yohan has shown that Bolt can be beaten,” said Dr. Blake.
”But still, it’s four weeks away from the Olympics and it’s enough time to get yourself in shape, so anything can happen.
“It makes for a more interesting Olympics.”
Editing by Larry Fine