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Olympics: Bolt is athletics' hope for salvation

Usain Bolt flashing his signature pose during a press conference held by the Jamaican Olympic Association in Rio de Janeiro.
Usain Bolt flashing his signature pose during a press conference held by the Jamaican Olympic Association in Rio de Janeiro. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Sprinter's quest for a "Treble Treble" may overshadow doping scandal in the sport

RIO DE JANEIRO • The history-chasing attempt of Usain Bolt will take centre stage as the Olympic track and field competition begins today with the drug-tarnished sport seeking rebirth after a year of shame.

Ten days of competition in the Olympic Stadium get under way with officials keen to draw a line under a miserable 12 months of controversy which have left athletics' image languishing at an all-time low.

As ever, it will be left to track and field's greatest showman, Bolt, to restore the feel-good factor as the sport attempts to turn the page on the Russian doping scandal and corruption allegations.

 

In his final Olympics, the Jamaican is gunning for gold in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay after sweeping the titles in 2008 and 2012.

The first leg of his "Treble Treble" quest starts tomorrow with the opening heats of the 100m before the final on Sunday.

"As a young kid, you grow up looking forward to the big Games," said Bolt. "Championships are what matter. This is what I do."

Just as he was at the World Championships in Beijing last year, Bolt is likely to find himself cast as the good guy in a hero-versus-villain duel with long-time rival Justin Gatlin.

Bolt has the 9.58sec 100m world record, but Gatlin is the fastest man in the world this season over the distance as he continues to polarise opinion over his two doping bans.

At an Olympics which has seen ugly spats in the swimming pool involving athletes with drug-tainted records, it is a safe bet that the American will once again find his past under scrutiny.

Sebastian Coe, the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), says he hopes Gatlin will be treated politely by fellow competitors.

"I can't change my view on (Gatlin) but he's eligible to compete and he should be accorded the same courtesy as any athlete," said Coe.

He added that he hoped fans watching track and field would cast aside cynicism, even if "the last year has sorely tested all of us".

"I genuinely hope that those people that are watching our sport are watching with hope and they're watching with excitement and they're watching with belief," the IAAF chief said.

Bolt said he believes his sport has turned the corner in the fight to cleanse itself.

"We're weeding out the bad ones. I personally think we're on the right track," said the Jamaican.

But he came under attack from Germany's outspoken Olympic discus champion Robert Harting for not speaking out more in the fight to clean up athletics.

"I would ask him (Bolt) why he does not go on the offensive, in any way, on the subject of doping," Harting told magazine Sport Bild.

"The best-known athlete in the world must join the current discussions and fight for a clean sport, especially since a lot of sprinters have tested positive and he has also been accused on a massive scale.

"The fact he stays out of it, gives a lot of food for thought."

The first of 47 gold medals - and 141 overall - will be decided today with the women's 10,000m, where Ethiopia's defending champion Tirunesh Dibaba will attempt to make Olympic history by becoming the first woman to win three consecutive times in an individual athletics event.

Dibaba's tilt at history is just one of several compelling storylines that will unfold over the second week of the Games.

Tomorrow's action will see another star chasing three-peat immortality when Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce attempts to complete an unprecedented hat-trick of Olympic gold in the women's 100m.

The 29-year-old, however, could face a stiff challenge from compatriot Elaine Thompson, the fastest woman in the world this year with a time of 10.70 seconds.

Flying Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers could also be in the hunt for medals, but is widely seen as the bigger threat in the 200m.

Among other highlights on opening weekend, Britain's Mo Farah will attempt to retain his 10,000m crown four years after his memorable romp to glory in London.

Britain's Jessica Ennis will begin the defence of her heptathlon title today but will face a stiff challenge from Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the world leader this year.

The Canadian's husband, US star Ashton Eaton, will be bidding to complete a family affair with victory in the decathlon, which starts on Thursday.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2016, with the headline 'Bolt is athletics' hope for salvation'. Print Edition | Subscribe