Seven days after the deflating experience of a surprise defeat in his final individual race, the fastest man in history was back on the track in the London Stadium in the day nine morning session at these 2017 IAAF World Championships – in buoyant mood and back in winning form.
Three-quarters of the way through heat two in the men’s 4 x 100m first round, Usain Bolt got the relay baton in his hand at the head of the home straight for what will be the penultimate race of his trailblazing sprinting career.
As it the crucial opening stages of the 100m final last Saturday night, he was down on his rivals. This time, however, the gap was only marginal.
Thanks to the efforts of his fledgling Jamaican team-mates, the nine-time world championship gold medallist and eight-time Olympic gold medal winner was breathing down the necks of China’s Peimeng Zhang and the Christophe Lemaitre of France as he set off down a home straight for the second last time.
To the roar of the crowd, Bolt got those long legs moving, easing seemingly effortlessly in front to take victory for Jamaica in 37.95, ahead of France (38.03) and China (38.20). The slick USA and Great Britain clocked quicker times but the great man will have a shot at a tenth world championship gold come final time in the Saturday evening session.
“It’s not a time to be sad, because the energy from this crowd is great,” said the man who clocked his stratospheric 100m (9.58) and 200m (19.19) world records at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin. “I’m just happy. I’m blessed.
“There are no words to describe how I am feeling. I get so much support from the crowd. I appreciate that a lot. All the energy I am getting from the crowd is brilliant.
“The young runners in our team… it is just about executing and coming through the race for them. We have been training for the relay. There were some camps but still there were some mistakes.
“Yohan Blake coming in for the final is definitely good.”
Barring a dropped baton, it would seem likely that Bolt will sprint off into the sunset with a 15th world championship gold medal, taking him one clear of Merlene Ottey – though perhaps not, by the end of the championships, of Allyson Felix, who also shares the record of 14 but has the possibility of two relay opportunities for the United States.
Bolt has anchored Jamaica to victory in the last six global championship 4 x 100m relay finals but there was an unfamiliar look to their quartet in London, with no Blake (in round one at least), Powell, Ashmeade or Carter.
This time the living legend was backed up by Tyquendo Tracey, Julian Forte and Michael Campbell – all new to the senior global championship relay game.
Tracey happens to be one of those rare beats: a mortal who knows what it is to finish with the superhuman Lightning Bolt in his slipstream. At the Gibson Relays in Kingston two years ago he took the baton on the anchor leg of the 4 x 100m for UTECH ahead of Bolt, running for Racers Track Club, and managed to stay there.
Like Campbell, he has yet to break 10.00 for the 100m and Forte, who reached the semi-finals of the individual 100m here, has only just scraped inside with 9.99. When did Jamaica last field a 4 x 100m quartet with two non sub-10 performers?
Still, they were slick enough to overcome their first round challenge in winning fashion – though not quite as slick as the US and GB teams – and they have Blake, the 100m world champion in Daegu in 2011, to come in for the final.
The US had the freshly-crowned 100m winner Justin Gatlin on leg two and silver medallist Christian on anchor. Backed up 60m indoor specialist Mike Rodgers on the lead off leg and BeeJay Lee of leg three, they stormed round in 37.70, a 2017 world lead.
The British quartet – Chijindu Ujah, Adam Gemili, Danny Talbot and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake – were only marginally less impressive, finishing second in 37.76, just 0.03 shy of their national record and their second quickest ever.
“We are confident we can win,” said Rodgers, the 2010 world indoor 60m silver medallist. “We will go and prepare well for tonight.”
Britain, too, will be shooting for a place on the podium. “We really want a medal,” said Gemili. “We know it will be tough but the crowd will help. We are very lucky to have this crowd here in London.”
Also in the final will be Japan, who finished third in heat one in 38.21, and non-automatic qualifiers Turkey (38.44) and Canada (38.48).