When Usain Bolt is around things tend to have a fun, chilled out vibe to them; a nod to his laidback Jamaican upbringing. But on Thursday 18th August, for 19 seconds or so, the two-time Olympic gold medallist, four-time world champion and world record holder will be deadly serious as he looks to clinch a historic ‘triple triple’ of golds at the planet’s most famous sporting event.
UK viewers will need to set their alarm for the 200m dash as the starting gun will blow at around 2:30am, but if they do they will surely be rewarded with a stunning spectacle as Bolt looks to hold off the threat of old rival Justin Gatlin and newcomer LaShawn Merritt and claim the triple crown of gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay for the third time.
Concerns about the 29-year-old’s hamstring injury have been laid to rest thanks to a solid showing at July’s Anniversary Games in London, where he recorded a season’s best time of 19.89. A decent enough warm-up performance then, and the bad news for his competitors is that he’s only just getting started. He told the BBC shortly after his win:
"I'm getting there, but I'm not fully in shape. I didn't execute the start well but I came through injury-free so I'm happy with that."
The hamstring tear occurred at the national trial event early in July, but naturally he was named in the Jamaican Olympic squad on a medical exemption. He will defend all three of his golds in Rio and it is thought that the 200m will be his most comprehensive victory of the trio. Indeed, Bolt has got his heart set on creating another historic moment in the Games.
"I really want to run under 19 seconds. It’s one of my major goals. It will not be an easy task, but I personally feel I can do it and my coach thinks I can do it."
The evidence stacks up rather nicely. Bolt is responsible for four of the six fastest times in history and while he isn’t getting any younger – in sprinting terms anyway – there is clearly another magic performance or two in him.
As recently as the 2015 World Championships, he took gold in 19.55; the tenth fastest 200m time in recorded history, and so his price of 1/3 with NetBet is fully justified. The real question here is: can anybody stop him?
It would take a punter of incredible confidence – or perhaps foolishness? – to bet against Bolt winning in Rio, but if anybody is to beat the Caribbean charger then it would surely be America’s Justin Gatlin.
This will be the 34-year-old’s final tilt at Olympic gold and, despite his advancing years, he remains in peak condition; he has recorded the second fastest time of the year to date at 19.75 and his finest career performance of 19.57 is inside the best 15 ever ran.
Just a year ago, he was claiming silver at the World Championships… behind Bolt, naturally. Further glory came at the American Team Trials earlier this year when he took the tape in 19.75 – his young American counterpart LaShawn Merritt was just 0.04 behind. While 100m looks his best option for gold, there is certainly plenty of life in this old dog just yet.
Occasionally in sports betting it is well worth backing the form horse and by that token the bookmakers will be taking plenty of money on LaShawn Merritt. The 30-year-old is responsible for three of the five fastest times posted in 2016, including a best of 19.74 as recently as July. That is still some 0.55 seconds off the world record mark set by Bolt, but faster than the Jamaican’s best this season.The plot thickens.
The key concern is that, despite being a senior sprinter for the best part of a decade, Merritt is yet to win a medal at a significant competition. Is he what sporting circles call ‘a choker’, or is he simply waiting for the right time to shine?
Given his form this season, there is certainly no time like the present for Merritt; backing him in the ‘Without Bolt/Gatlin’ market offered by Ladbrokes looks a canny move.
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