Usain Bolt was quick to point out that he is not athletics’ saviour but, as the flashbulbs fired and athletics chiefs breathed a collective sigh of relief at his re-emergence, the reality proved very different.
Athletics has had no shortage of coverage in the previous few weeks, from doping allegations against Alberto Salazar to missed drugs tests by Mo Farah, and the scintillating form of a proven drug cheat in Justin Gatlin, the headline act of a difficult season for the sport so far.
Bolt has not exactly wafted into London – he uses Teddington as a training base for much of the summer – but his appearance in front of the cameras and, more poignantly, on the track in this weekend's Anniversary Games, are what the sport has desperately been crying out for.
There has been much conjecture in the past months over the state of Bolt. His quickest 100 metres this season was clocked at 10.13sec on Copacabana Beach, and then there were scheduled races scrapped as he suffered a setback with a pelvic problem.
Increasingly, it looked a distinct possibility that he would miss the World Championships and the hoped for duel against Gatlin – seemingly teed up as good against evil at its most basic level – appeared set to fizzle out before it had even begun.
But the world’s fastest man is back on familiar ground, on the same track where he won triple gold at London 2012.
Paula Radcliffe made the point this week that athletes, regardless of their form and fitness, relish returning to the scene of their greatest triumphs. “You run well where you’ve run before, you pine to be back at the places where you’ve been successful,” she pointed out.
Bolt is so laid back, though, that trying to get any sense of whether he pines for London or where he is currently are hard to gauge, his response a simple shrug of the shoulders and the utterance: “We’ll see tomorrow.”
But the word in his camp is that, in the right conditions, Bolt is currently between 9.7 and 9.8-second pace, with his coach Glen Mills suggesting, in the wet weather anticipated on Saturday night, a time in the high 9.8sec seems a reasonable pre-race assumption.
Such times will not unduly concern Gatlin, who has consistently ducked below 9.8 this season but, then again, regardless of what Bolt runs in both heat and final, it is worth noting he has been in a similar position before.
Ahead of the 2011 World Championships, his form was sketchy: his first 9.9 run did not come until his final warm-up race pre-Daegu; his quicker times being in the wake of those championships. Admittedly, he did not celebrate the 100m title there after a false start but won gold in the 200m and 4x100m, proving that he was in the sort of shape to win his customary triple.
Bolt is big news. Even the Chancellor of the Exchequer saw that, allowing a one-off tax break to encourage his appearance back in London.
Asked if he was worth the economic exception, the Jamaican said: “Definitely. One thing you know, I always try to show my best performances, bring great crowds, it’s always a great meet when I’m here, so I definitely think I’m worth it.”
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