EUGENE, OREGON – It’s a sport built on speed, and at U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on Saturday, sprinters wasted no time drawing conclusions about Usain Bolt’s summertime itinerary.
The consensus: He’ll be in Rio.
For the second straight day, the Jamaican sprinter’s hamstring was Topic No. 1 in the track world. If Bolt is seriously hurt, the entire Olympics will take on a new perspective, whether it’s Bolt at less-than-full strength or — still unthinkable at this point — absent altogether.
Not that anyone going through preliminary rounds in Eugene was worried.
“Crazy stuff always happens in an Olympic year,” said Bolt’s main challenger, Justin Gatlin, who cruised through his 100-meter preliminary in a time of 10.03 seconds. “Like anyone else, you have to see what’s going to happen. But c’mon. We’re going to see his face in Rio one way or another.”
Gatlin, Tyson Gay, Mike Rodgers and Trayvon Bromell all advanced easily through the first round of the 100.
Meanwhile in Kingston, few clues emerged the day after Bolt, the 29-year-old world-record holder, pulled out of his national championships.
What is known is that Jamaica’s rules are much less restrictive than those in the United States, which allow the top three finishers in each event to qualify, with no exceptions for injuries or past performances.
Per Jamaica’s rules, Bolt can earn his spot in the 100 and 200 if he can show he’s fit enough; that judgment call has to be made by July 18, when Olympic rosters are due.
“I feel like it’s a cop-out. He should run like anybody else,” said Rodgers, the 2009 U.S. champion at 100 meters. “But at the end of the day, he’s Bolt. He’s the Olympic champ, he’s the world champ. Until someone beats him, puts him in his place, he’s going to do what he wants to do.”
In 2012, Bolt ran at Jamaica’s nationals, but finished second to Yohan Blake in both the 100 and 200, not far removed from a minor car crash and dealing with some leg issues. Bolt was injured in the lead-up to world championships last year, but nonetheless edged Gatlin in the 100 and blew by him in the 200.
“It’s a tradition,” said Gay, who once was Bolt’s main challenger.
Gatlin said years ago, he might have heard about an injury to Bolt “and thought I hit the lottery.” What did the injury do to his thought process this time?
“Nothing,” Gatlin said.
Gatlin didn’t want to get sucked into a conversation of whether he’d like to see Bolt at his best when he gets to Brazil later in the summer. The Americans still have to get through two more rounds of the 100 on Sunday to secure their spot on the Olympic team.
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