Olympics: Will Trayvon Bromell succeed Usain Bolt as the King of the track?

Trayvon Bromell owns the fastest time this year, which is also the seventh-quickest of all time.
Trayvon Bromell owns the fastest time this year, which is also the seventh-quickest of all time.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO - In just under 10 seconds on Sunday (Aug 1), a new face will be crowned the Olympics' fastest man.

For over a decade and across three consecutive editions, the name Usain Bolt flashed on the big screen in stadiums from Beijing to London to Rio de Janeiro at the end of each 100-metre race.

But the Jamaican world-record holder retired in 2017 at age 31, abdicating his throne.

His absence adds intrigue to Sunday's final, which remains the blue-riband event of the athletics programme, which starts on Friday (July 30).

Bolt, like so many others, will be keeping a keen eye on the race in Tokyo.

Watching from his mansion in Kingston, he will be counting on the man he has anointed as his successor to step up and deliver.

That man is Trayvon Bromell.

The 26-year-old American shares an agent with Bolt but this pick is not a case of favouritism.

Bromell is likely to be among the eight men hunched over the starting blocks on Sunday, and the form book says he will be the hot favourite.

He owns the fastest time this year - 9.77 seconds - which is also the seventh-quickest of all time. Bolt's world record is 9.58sec.

The 10-second barrier has been broken 20 times this year but the Florida native is the only sprinter to go under 9.80sec.

The former high school and college prodigy - he was the first Under-20 athlete in the world to post a sub-10sec run in the 100m when he clocked 9.97 in 2014 - knows he has Bolt's backing but is not letting the talk get to his head.

In an interview with British newspaper The Guardian last month, he said: "I'm humble and I'm hungry, but I respect everybody's talent. But these Olympics are important to me.

"Back in 2016 (at the Rio Olympics), I wanted it all for myself. I wanted to win. I wanted to be the big dog. I wanted to be, 'He's the next greatest'. What's happened since has made me understand what my true purpose was."

In Rio five years ago, struggling with a bone spur, he scraped into the men's 100m final and finished last among the eight, in 10.06sec.

Bromell was the first Under-20 athlete in the world to post a sub-10sec run in the 100m when he clocked 9.97 in 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

Worse was to come in the 4x100m relay. He tore his Achilles tendon in a desperate attempt to earn the bronze medal for his country, only to find out the team were disqualified for an improper first exchange. While Bolt blazed to immortality on the track in Rio as the greatest sprinter ever, Bromell was taken off in a wheelchair.

The injury put him on the shelf for most of the next two years, but, Bromell, deeply devoted to his Christian faith, refused to throw in the towel.

Despite spending hours under the knife and months in rehabilitation, he has worked his way back to contention to claim the title of fastest in the world.

It is also why the race in Tokyo means more than himself. Bromell believes it is his destiny to win, and inspire others never to give up on their dreams whatever the challenge in front of them may be.

His succession, however, is not a foregone conclusion.

Britain's Zharnel Hughes, the US' Trayvon Bromell and Nigeria's Enoch Adegokein Heat 2 at the Tokyo Olympic Stadium on July 31, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

Yohan Blake, Bolt's compatriot, at 31 is gunning to finally fulfil the potential he showed almost a decade ago when he was touted as a serious threat to Bolt at London 2012. He picked up a silver medal then and finished fourth in Rio.

South Africa's Akani Simbine, who has the second-fastest time this season (9.84sec), is also a contender, although his consistency - he placed in the top five in Rio as well as the 2017 and 2019 World Championships - has not won him a major medal.

Meanwhile, Bromell's fellow Americans Ronnie Baker and Fred Kerley, as well as Canada's Andre de Grasse, bronze medallist in Rio, are all outside chances.

(From left) Ronnie Baker, Trayvon Bromell and Fred Karley after the Men's 100 Metre Final at the US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials in Eugene, Oregon, on June 20, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

Asia's hopes of a first-ever podium place in the event will likely rest on China's Su Bingtian and local favourite Ryota Yamagata.

The 100m final in Tokyo will have an unfamiliar feel to it - not just because of the absence of Bolt's speed, but also his star power.

His flamboyance and flair helped athletics become one of the biggest draws at the past three Olympics. He was not just the king of the track, but also its clown prince, making him a beloved character, even to non-track fans.

Bromell, by his own admission, lacks those attributes. Almost in an attempt to temper expectations that he will, in 40-something strides, fulfil the vacuum left by Bolt, the American told the Olympic News Service that he is "not that guy that gets out there and does all the dancing and all the crazy stuff before and after the race".

"When I step up on the track, you see the humble beginnings," he said. "I think that's what a lot of people can relate to... I'm me, I never changed up. I'm still the same guy who wears a black hoodie and a hat everywhere."

Bromell may not possess Bolt's panache nor his popularity - he has a modest 181,000 followers on Instagram, Bolt has 10.3 million - but that will matter little if he delivers on the hype and breasts the tape first on Sunday, and ascends to the throne. The king is dead, long live the king.