Blake was prepared; Bolt was not
FROM THE SPORTS DESK
IF ever there were doubts as to Jamaica's readiness for the London Olympics, Friday night's mesmerising display of sprinting at the JAAA/Supreme Ventures National Athletic Championships certainly put that to rest.
Weeks before the Games, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Yohan Blake convincingly demonstrated that this little island, dubbed the 'sprint capital of the word', is in safe hands by winning their respective 100m finals with verve and aplomb.
In the process, the two not only emerged as the principal contenders for the coveted crowns with impressive world-leading times, but also left in their wake distinctively eminent fields.
Crucially, the Jamaican qualifiers have sent ominous warnings to their American rivals who are also in the middle of their selection process and would have been paying keen attention.
A shock insofar as his impeccable 100m record on local soil is concerned, plus the fact that he had never before been beaten by his young training partner in an official race, Bolt's loss is, by far, the surprise and chief talking point of the meet.
Blake, whose 9.75 seconds was a huge personal best, established a stadium record by topping the previous 9.76 set by Bolt in 2008. 'The Beast', by whipping his close and respected friend, was, in fact, proving what legendary sprinter Michael Greene had always believed.
One vividly recalls Greene's insistence that whether or not Bolt had false started in Daegu, Blake would still have won the short dash at the World Championships because the world recorder-holder was not in his best shape, and wasn't the athlete he was in 2008 and 2009.
In fact, some argue that the false start was generated by Bolt's recognition of Blake as a threat, thus the anxiety to get a good start, which was crucial in his victory bid.
Just last week, Greene reinforced his argument by insisting that in his present shape, Bolt will be vulnerable in London and the 100m final will not only be extremely close, but will also be a wide open affair. He argued that the Jamaican superstar is not in 9.58-seconds mode and will be unable to replicate the times of years ago.
Blake, in contrast, is a rapidly-improving athlete with a similar 'fire-in-the-belly' hunger Bolt displayed four years ago. His ambitions know no bounds and, as his post-race interview suggested, he is aiming to add Olympic gold to his burgeoning accolades of world and Jamaican champion.
Unlike the thousands whose mouths may still be agape after Friday's unfolding at the National Stadium, the result would not have come as a surprise to Bolt. Any pretence at naivety would have been eclipsed by his own knowledge of Blake's intensity and high work rate at training, plus his unbridled passion for sprinting.
However, amidst the excitement, pundits know Bolt will be the man to beat this summer if he gets his act together. For, what was witnessed on Friday mirrored the 'hot and cold' paradigm cultivated since late 2010 — the last time he lost against Tyson Gay at a Diamond League meeting in Stockholm.
The inconsistency has continued somewhat this season, with his previous world-leading times of 9.76 and 9.79 being sullied in between by a pedestrian 10.03.
As an individual who wears his emotions on his sleeves, Bolt telegraphs his confidence level ahead of competition — an observation made by commentators at the Diamond League meet in Rome where his pre-race apprehension and subsequent relief after a fast time were revealed.
On Friday, the usual pre-game antics of the showman were glaringly missing, suggesting Bolt is short on confidence and, I daresay, preparation.
Again, his start in both semi-final and final were horrible — left in the blocks on both occasions and having to dig deep to catch the rapidly receding fields.
Fraser-Pryce, meanwhile, beat the experienced two-time Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell Brown, as well as Olympic 100m silver medallists Kerron Stewart and Sherone Simpson in convincing fashion while romping to a stadium record 10.70 seconds — an astonishing new Jamaican record that eclipsed her previous mark of 10.73.
Remarkably, all three women who gained automatic selection for the 100m dipped under 10secs, with VBC and Stewart clocking 10.82 and 10.94, respectively.
Among the men, the top four all went below the benchmark 10 seconds. Blake apart, Bolt, Asafa Powell and Michael Frater clocked corresponding times of 9.86, 9.88 and 9.94.
Beset by injury over the past year, the diminutive Fraser-Pryce is a big occasion runner and, with her confidence sky-high, will be tough to conquer in London. Apparently, the ambitions of the 25-year-old star transcend a mere defence of her 100m Olympic crown, as she has also set her sights on the 200m.
Boasting a creditable PR of 22.15 in the half-lap, Fraser-Pryce should be a worthy competitor against favourite VCB at the Trials, with her chances of finishing in the top three a distinct possibility, considering her enhanced strength and experience.
However, while our top four female sprinters are rounding into championship form, the supporting cast is a distance behind. Sherrie-Ann Brooks, Jura Levy and Carrie Russell were nowhere around on Friday, lending credence to calls for a succession plan.
As the world awaits Part Two of the sprinting extravaganza this weekend, Bolt and VCB are tipped to take the 200s today. Neither has lost over the distance in recent times, which, coupled with their defeats in the marquee events on Friday, thus sets the stage for something extra special.
With the 100s already under their belts, however, both Blake and Fraser-Pryce could have other ideas. We wait with bated breaths.