Usain Bolt was not exactly quick out of the blocks on his first official engagement in London in 2012 last night. The world's fastest man was 45 minutes late at the Jamaica Olympic Association's pre-Games press conference at a converted brewery in Brick Lane.
Still, when he finally made it on stage with Asafa Powell, his countryman and predecessor as holder of the world 100 metres record, there was a pleasant surprise in store. Mike Fennell, president of the Jamaica Olympic Association, announced that Bolt would be carrying his country's flag at the opening ceremony in the Olympic Stadium tonight. "Carrying the flag is an honour," Bolt said. "I love Jamaica. I couldn't live anywhere else. To be singled out at the opening ceremony is great."
There was also a surprise from Bolt himself. Asked by the master of ceremonies, the former 110m hurdles world record holder Colin Jackson, whether he would be willing to extend his workload in London beyond the 100m, 200m and 4x100m, to include a fourth event – the 4x400m relay – he replied: "It would be about how I felt after the 200m. If I feel like it – if I'm feeling fresh, why not?"
The big question was whether Bolt was fully fit and close to his world record-breaking best after the jolt of his defeats over 100m and 200m at the hands of his training partner Yohan Blake at the Jamaican trials last month – and after withdrawing from his final scheduled race before the Games, a 200m at the Diamond League meeting in Monaco last week with an unspecified niggle. "I'm ready to go," Bolt insisted.
There was one conspicuous absentee from the press conference, attended by a 400-strong media throng. Not that anything sinister could be read into the non-attendance of Blake other than the desire of Glen Mills, the sprint guru who coaches the two principal contenders for the men's 100m crown, to get him away from a media circus about their rivalry ahead of their head-to-head on the Olympic Stadium track.