When track coach Glen Mills, the man who has overseen the development of the greatest sprinter the world has ever seen since he was just a scrawny teenager, says that he believes Usain Bolt can run faster than ever at the London Olympics, provided that the weather’s OK, then you sense that excuses are being lined up for the world’s fastest man.
After all, after the wettest summer in Britain for a century, there’s no one putting any money on the sun shining over the London Olympic Stadium on August 5, the day that the much-anticipated men’s 100 metres final is to be staged.
No matter that Michael Johnson, himself a four-time Olympic sprint gold medal-winner, this week said that he believed Bolt could be capable of running 9.40sec – nearly two-tenths faster than the current 9.58sec world record he set in 2009.
The realities of the situation are that in the prevailing conditions of an August evening in east London – cool, possibly breezy, maybe even a headwind, and probably a bit damp – even a fully fit Bolt might creak a little.
Bolt’s been to Britain often enough to know that the chances of a balmy, tropical day in London, helping to ease his congenital back condition and allow his long legs to operate better than anyone has ever seen before, are most unlikely.
Bolt’s been known to break records in the rain – his 14.35sec 150m world best was set in a typically Mancunian spring downpour. But that, too, was three years ago, in what proved to be the finest season of Bolt’s career.
Now, what was supposed to be the highlight of the London Games, is under a cloud of a different sort, with growing doubts about the fitness of the Jamaican 25-year-old superstar.
Following two defeats in the space of three days to training partner and rival Yohan Blake at the Jamaican trials, Bolt has now pulled out of his final pre-Olympic race, the 200 metres at next week’s Monte Carlo Diamond League meeting – foregoing at least $150,000 in appearance fees in the process.
Instead, last weekend he jetted off to Munich for some “routine” treatment at the hands of the sometimes controversial German sports doctor, Hans-Wilhelm Mueller-Wohlfahrt.
Which all makes a re-appraisal of the market in the biggest betting event of the XXX Olympic Games quite timely.
2.55 for Blake to beat Bolt? That looks a lot better than the 1.45 offered for the positions to be reversed.
Bolt not to win the 100m gold medal at 2.20? On his latest form? You’ve got to think so. That, after all, represents a bet on the field to beat Bolt, and for Bolt to beat himself, too.
Remember what happened the last time Bolt felt under pressure going into a major international championship 100m final? The big man false started in Daegu, something if repeated in London would be good enough for Unibet to pay out to all those who back against the defending Olympic champion.
Michael Johnson, who since dominating the 200 and 400m on the track has become a highly respected commentator on the sport, has watched Bolt’s development in undisguised awe. The American, who runs a performance analysis business in Texas, has also been to Jamaica to study and observe Bolt and Blake when training with coach Mills.
“Yohan Blake showed he will take advantage when Bolt does not perform at his best,” Johnson warned this week. “Bolt now has a legitimate challenger and will need to be at his best in London to defend his Olympic title.”
Johnson still has faith in Bolt’s ability, though. “I would say if he gets to the starting line healthy, at his best, everyone else at their best, he wins every time.” Thing is, punters are unlikely to get a reliable health check or to judge Bolt’s form from now until the Olympic quarter-finals on August 4.
Johnson’s support for Bolt might even persuade the American having a little touch on the markets if he saw the Unibet odds on Bolt’s likely finishing time in the Olympic final.
There, a sub-9.40sec is offered at 25.00. Such a time represents Bolt being two metres faster than his 2009 world best. Extraordinarily, Johnson does not seem to rule out such a performance by Bolt.
Johnson said: “He could break the world record again, he could run 9.5sec... lower. Ultimately if he were to really be focused and committed on cleaning up his technique, he could probably run 9.4sec, but he would have to do some major training and adjustments in the way that he runs.”
The punter’s wallet warning there comes in the use of the word “ultimately”. The way things have gone this season, with hamstring problems, car crashes and erratic form, Bolt will probably be just glad to get to the start line in London in one piece.
Then, against Blake, Gay and the 2004 Olympic champion, Justin Gatlin, the best guess is that it may take something close to or better than the world record to win gold in London: you can get odds of 3.75 on Bolt clocking 9.51-9.60sec in the final.