Bolt taking it all in his stride

Usain Bolt was untroubled while winning the ninth heat of the 200m on Tuesday. The Jamaican, who danced during his warm-up, was relaxed as he clocked 20.28sec as rival Justin Gatlin won the fifth heat in 20.42.
Usain Bolt was untroubled while winning the ninth heat of the 200m on Tuesday. The Jamaican, who danced during his warm-up, was relaxed as he clocked 20.28sec as rival Justin Gatlin won the fifth heat in 20.42.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Empty seats at stadium a blight on organisers who fail to capitalise on Jamaican's charisma

RIO DE JANEIRO • These Olympics will be remembered for any amount of athletic excellence but there are days when the acreage of empty seats in Rio's showpiece stadium feels doubly depressing.

If there is one man who should be guaranteed to attract a crowd, it is Usain Bolt, the fastest and most marketable athlete on the planet. For him to run in front of a sea of vacant blue plastic seats damages the Games' image.

Admittedly it was a morning session and Bolt, by his own admission, was merely intent on easing into the 200m semi-finals.

But sometimes it is the quiet Tuesday mornings that best reflect the true magnetism, or otherwise, of the modern Games.

With fewer than half the 60,000 seats filled for the latest instalment of the Bolt roadshow on a sparklingly bright sunny day, the glaring inability of the local organisers either to sell enough tickets or grant free admission to those unable to afford them was exposed once more.

The announcement of the death of the 100-year-old Joao Havelange, the former Fifa president, also added to the contemplative mood.

Bolt, as ever, did his best to provide at least some value for money, dutifully performing a little dance during his warm-up before strolling to a comfortable 20.28sec victory in his heat like a man casually jogging for a stationary bus.

The Jamaican remains firmly on course for his historic "triple triple" - an unprecedented third successive sweep of all three Olympic sprint titles in the 100m, 200m and 4x100 m relay.

Given that Bolt, who will turn 30 on Sunday, has expressed a desire to break 19 seconds for the 200m, preferably this week, it was simply a case of going through the motions and trying to shake out some of the fatigue following his third Olympic 100m title success.

He admits he "loves" the 200m more than any other event and sounds determined to give it a rip as and when he reaches the final, starting with the semi-finals today.

"I'm always tired for the first round but the execution was okay," he said. "The key thing is that I qualified and I qualified easy. It's the morning session and I'm not a morning person."

There is no real sense whatsoever, either, that his 100m exertions are about to catch up with him, be it physically or mentally.

"For me it's easy because I've been doing this for years. You just celebrate on the night, be happy, get all your congratulations and then have to be focused to go again the next day. It was easy," said Bolt.

How badly athletics will miss him when he is gone. There were plenty of other worthy performances in the heats, not least from Britain's Adam Gemili, Daniel Talbot and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, who all clocked marginally quicker 200m qualifying times than Bolt.

But it would be stretching things to suggest the stadium came alive for any of them when the Jamaican superstar was present.

THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2016, with the headline 'Bolt taking it all in his stride'. Print Edition | Subscribe