All eyes on Bolt — even if training in seclusion
BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — Usain Bolt refuses to line up against his good friend Wallace Spearmon in a race. No way and under no circumstances. To hear Spearmon tell it, the Jamaican sensation is downright scared and doesn't think he stands a chance because the American simply has too much power.
Horsepower, that is.
The two sprinters have similar Nissan GT-R sports cars, but Bolt won't speed down a runway against Spearmon's vehicle — ever.
"Just won't race," said Spearmon, whose car tops out at around 230 mph. "He's seen my car and already backed out. That's one race I know I can beat him at."
On the track, it's a completely different story.
When Bolt is healthy, there are few that can keep up with him. And while he hardly enters the London Games as the Bolt who was so dominant four years ago, he is still the reigning Olympic champion in the 100 and 200 meters. He's also still the world-record holder in both events.
That can't be overlooked or stressed enough, even with the emergence of Bolt's training partner Yohan Blake.
"Usain has been so dominant that when he's not, we see blood in the water," said sprinter Doc Patton, who's in the US relay pool. "We say, 'Oh, he's vulnerable. Oh, he can be beat.' He's still the champ. He still takes 41 steps to everyone else's 44. That's a big advantage. But I can't imagine the kind of pressure on him."
Bolt has been training in seclusion on a track at the University of Birmingham. There's really no way to catch a glimpse with the facility surrounded by thick bushes and patrolled by security.
Even Spearmon can't get through. He's one of Bolt's closest friends and hasn't spoken to him in nearly two weeks.
Not that he's particularly trying all that hard. Spearmon figures he will see him in the 200. That's soon enough.
"I've got one person to worry about," Spearmon said. "That's the only person who can determine what happens."
Many are thinking the 100 and 200 are shaping up to be a two-Jamaican showdown.
Blake or Bolt.
Bolt or Blake.
Choose your side.
The 22-year-old Blake has the fastest time in the world this season in both sprint events, with Bolt close behind.
If the Jamaican trials were an indication, Blake is setting himself up to steal the show in London as he beat Bolt in both events.
Just don't read too much into it, cautioned Spearmon.
"I know he hasn't lost in a while so he has this misperception that he's invincible," Spearmon said.
"But he's the first person to tell you that even he can lose a race — and he did. I don't think it affects his chances at all. I think it gave Blake some confidence. But I think Bolt will be all right."
Blake ran 9.85 seconds in a tuneup race last week in Switzerland. He definitely had plenty of eyes on him, too.
A few hundred miles away in Monaco, Tyson Gay watched Blake run with keen interest in a hotel lobby. Gay studied the start of the sprinter nicknamed "The Beast," watched his acceleration phase and his finish.
"Yohan looked real strong and real fit," Gay said. "He's going to be tough to beat."
As for the other Jamaican — hard to believe Bolt can be referred to as "the other Jamaican" — Gay is not writing Bolt off yet.
"He's looking good too, man," Gay said. "I think he's going to be a tough competitor. He is obviously one of the favourites."
With his surgically repaired hip, Gay is flying under the radar heading into London. He's only raced a couple of times since March, but Gay is quickly getting up to speed.
"There's no pressure on me," said Gay, who insists his hip is doing just fine. "I don't have as much media attention on me. I don't have to do so many obligations. It does feel pretty good (to be the underdog)."
Another sprinter overshadowed by the presence of Bolt and Blake is 2004 Olympic gold medalist Justin Gatlin, who's back on track's biggest stage after a four-year doping suspension.
"I'm not favoured to win," Gatlin said after claiming the 100 title at US trials in Eugene, Ore. "There are other guys out there who have experience and the upperhand on me since I've been gone for four years. It's going to be an uphill battle for me, to claw to the top.
"But anything can happen."
Especially since no one really knows the conditioning level or health of Bolt.
Maybe he's completely fit? Or maybe his balky back is bothering him?
This much is known: Bolt appears to be enjoying his down time in Birmingham. He's tweeting photos of fellow sprinters playing dominoes and of himself clowning around.
Soon, though, it will be time to turn serious — as much as Bolt, the clown prince of track, can anyway.
And maybe later, down the road after the Olympics, perhaps a showdown with Spearmon. The American is anxious for the chance.
"Tell him I will race his car," Spearmon said. "Because if we race our cars, I'd kill him."