Bolt shapes up for big-three battle

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Usain Bolt was a man of few words when he arrived here in the Swedish capital yesterday ahead of the first head-to-head-to-head of the year between the big three of the sprint world. "What's up?" the 100m world record holder said to Swedish television on arrival at Arlanda Airport. "I'm here. I'm in good shape."

And with that, the world's fastest man was off to board a train bound for central Stockholm, where he runs against Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell in the 100m in the DN Galan meeting, part of the International Association of Athletics Federations' Samsung Diamond League series, in the 1912 Olympic Stadium tomorrow night.

It will be the first race between the world's three fastest men since the 100m final at the World Championships in Berlin in August last year. On that occasion, Bolt blitzed to a new world record time of 9.58sec, with Gay second in 9.71sec and Powell third in 9.84sec. It was in the DN Galan meeting here two years ago, in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, that Powell inflicted the last defeat suffered by Bolt, his Jamaican compatriot. "I love it when I am in a race with Tyson and Usain," Powell said. "It makes me more focused and brings the best out of me."

It emerged yesterday that Powell's manager and his manager's wife had been involved in a plane crash in the United States last weekend, both fortunately escaping with only minor injuries. The aircraft in which Paul Doyle and his wife, Karen Shinkins, the former Irish Olympic hurdler, were travelling in the United States crashed into a field in Virginia in bad weather.

It is unlikely that Bolt, Powell or Gay will have been jolted by the return to action of Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion, across the Baltic in Estonia on Tuesday. Competing in his first race since serving a four-year ban for excessive levels of testosterone, the 28-year-old American clocked 10.24sec to win the 100m at the Kuld Liga meeting in Rakere.

"I felt alive," Gatlin said, which is one good sign at least. "Now we are going to work on getting the sharpness and hopefully on 8 August we are going to lower that time as well." The "we" is a reference to Loren Seagrave, the coach who is guiding Gatlin on the comeback trail. In 1991 Seagrove worked with Ben Johnson when the Canadian returned from his post-Seoul Olympics ban.

Gatlin's next race will be in Tallinn on Sunday. Like Dwain Chambers, he is barred from mainstream European meetings because of his doping conviction. Unlike Chambers, though, Gatlin is free to chase selection for the Olympics in London in 2012. Chambers is subject to the British Olympic Association by-law which precludes past drugs offenders from the British team. The United States Olympic Committee has no such bar.