Sport

Mentally toughest will cop Men's 100m

FROM THE SPORTS DESK

With Hartley Anderson

Sunday, August 05, 2012    

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A great intrigue of top-level sport is the test of temperament of its characters. As expected, this paradigm has so far been displayed at the London Games.

In fact, as one indulges in the delicacies of the business end of the global spectacle, one is already privy to the mettle of champions and anticipates more.

Fittingly, on the day the marquee event — the Men's 100m final — is to be contested, questions surrounding the mental toughness of these stars will be emphatically answered. Indeed, despite their varied backgrounds and experiences, the aspirants are unified

in their burning desire to

become champion.

If one is Jamaican, blessed as we are with incredible depth in sprinting, there shouldn't be much worry, as should any of the trio of Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake or Asafa Powell falter at any stage, the others will ensure sufficient representation in what should be an explosive affair.

An ideal situation would, of course, be all three qualifying for the championship race, thus embellishing the stage for the most anticipated

of events.

Further, were one in doubt as to the race's import to the athletes, one only has to listen to their impassioned remarks ahead of the crescendo in London. Each has an exclusive story of his journey to the battlefield and of his right to claim the prestigious crown — an apt prelude to a performance to be watched by billions.

Undoubtedly, a most riveting narrative would be Justin Gatlin's rise from the ignominy of a four-year doping ban to contender for sports' biggest prize. A second-time drugs offender on whom the authorities unloaded a daunting penalty, the otherwise steadfast Gatlin has always epitomised mental strength, determination and a love of the sport.

Four years is an eternity in the life of an athlete, especially for a sprinter. However Gatlin, who always maintained his innocence, never stopped training and never stopped believing. The 2004 Olympic champion, he has been to the zenith as well as the nadir and with much to prove, could not be more motivated.

Similarly stimulated is Tyson Gay, who soldiers on despite his perennial physical afflictions of one kind or another. A former double world sprint champion, the bustling American underwent hip replacement surgery less than a year ago and though still on

the mend, is to be lauded for his

mere presence.

In fact, despite his late preparation this season, the American record-holder is regarded in respected circles as the fly in the ointment of a Jamaican sweep and is hungry for his first Olympic success following disappointment in Beijing four years ago.

The Jamaican trio heightens the intriguing sub-plots of the all-star cast. Starting with the mercurial Powell, who is also yet to achieve an individual Olympic medal, the injury-prone sprinter is, however, as renowned for his record sub-10-seconds performances as he is for choking on the big occasion.

In what is his last realistic chance of achieving Olympic 100m glory, Powell — who endures a love-hate relationship with fans because of his relative under-achievement in copping consecutive fifth-place finishes — will have to prove he has finally conquered his psychological demons.

The London stage would be the perfect place to finally unravel his awesome sprinting ability.

Blake, meanwhile, rose to stardom as the 2011 world champion at Daegu, but will be keen to prove his credentials against the major contenders in one historic race. Propelled by his sensational double victory over Bolt at the Olympic Trials, 'The Beast' could be the most confident member of the pack and at 22, has absolutely nothing to lose.

With Bolt having reiterated his intentions of becoming a legend by attempting an unprecedented repeat, he has heaped on himself added pressure with which he is, nevertheless, able

to cope.

Way ahead of the opposition when in peak condition, Bolt's fitness level is still in question following injury glitches early in the season. Thankfully, the lanky sprinter is a big time performer, but will not be expected to log the phenomenal time of four years ago, regardless of how he finishes.

Having seen these athletes contest their first-round heats yesterday, the form books have been upheld ahead of this afternoon's semi-finals and final. As had been predicted in many quarters, the progression of the Americans and Jamaicans adheres to a dream script of a final involving all six — a kind of match-play between the sprinting powerhouses.

Interestingly, while the US runners — including Ryan Bailey — appeared anxious to prove their abilities in the early blow-outs yesterday, their chief nemeses were in cruise mode,

wisely conserving energy for the next two rounds.

For me, Blake could to be the man to beat. Focused and executing his game plan to perfection, the world champion oozes confidence and is in tip-top mental and physical shape.

Bolt, meanwhile, also looked good but still carries his Achilles heel of a poor start, exacerbated by his false start and disqualification in Daegu last year which will always play on his mind.

Regardless of how events pan out this afternoon, the athletics world is in for a fantastic race that could uncharacteristically produce fast times in the English capital.

From a Jamaican perspective, two medals would be an excellent Independence Day present.

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