There was a crowded house at the grand old South London home of British athletics last night, an expectant 16,000 gathered to see the Jamaican Lightning Bolt and whether he could strike again in record-breaking time.
Sadly for the throng, who afforded Usain Bolt the most rapturous of receptions, the world's fastest man continues to carry the weather with him on his travels.
Over the past three months, the triple Olympic gold medal winner has crashed his car in the rain, clocked a world best time for 150m on a puddled street track in Manchester and been bedevilled by the wind and the rain on the European circuit.
On the opening night of the Aviva London Grand Prix, there was another gust for the world's fastest man to contend with. The wind swirled around Crystal Palace as Bolt got to his marks for the final of the showpiece event of the two-day meeting, the men's 100m. It proved too strong for even the Jamaican phenomenon to trouble the record books.
With the crowd screaming and waving their Jamaican flags, Bolt got off to what was a half-decent start by his standards. He started pulling clear of the field from the halfway stage and could afford to take his foot off the gas some 5m from the line. With a headwind of 1.7 metre-per-second blowing in his face, though, his winning time was – for him – a decidedly modest 9.91sec.
The world record Bolt set while slowing down and celebrating in the Olympic final in Beijing last summer, 9.69sec, was never in any trouble. Neither was the UK all-comers' record that his Jamaican team-mate and rival Asafa Powell set as a world-record-equalling time at Gateshead back in 2005, 9.77sec. Even the Crystal Palace track record survived. That still stands at 9.89sec to Justin Gatlin, the US sprinter currently serving out a drugs ban.
Still, it was another decisive victory for Bolt three weeks out from the World Championships in Berlin. His training partner and compatriot, Yohan Blake, was the closest to him, clocking 10.11sec as runner up. Simeon Williamson, two weeks on from his victory over Dwain Chambers at the British trials in Birmingham, was fourth in 10.19sec – two places and 0.07sec ahead of Powell, who had ventured to suggest on the eve of the meeting that the Highgate Harrier and the rest of Britain's leading sprinters were "lazy". A measure of vengeance was served up on a cold and windy night in South London.
"I feel really good about going to Berlin," Bolt said. "I'm going there on a mission." Not that the 6ft 5in beanpole was in any great urgency in his heat earlier in the evening. Ambling out of the starting blocks, he was happy to qualify for the final in second place, in a time of 10.31sec, allowing Antiguan Daniel Bailey the honour of the first victory against the Lightning Bolt since he was beaten by Powell in a 100m race in Stockholm a year and three days ago.
Unfortunately for British athletics, there have been more broken bodies than records on the domestic front in the run-up to the World Championships. The British squad for Berlin will be announced on Tuesday but injury has already ruled several leading lights out of the selection equation: Mara Yamauchi, the world No 2 in the marathon this year; Tasha Danvers, the Olympic 400m hurdles bronze medal winner in Beijing; and Kelly Sotherton, the 2004 Olympic heptathlon bronze medallist. There are doubts, too, about the fitness of Paula Radcliffe, the marathon world record holder, and Christine Ohuruogu, the Olympic, world and Commonwealth 400m champion.
Ohuruogu had been due to run in the one-lap event at the Palace last night – that was until a hamstring problem jolted her preparations for Berlin. The Londoner's coach, Lloyd Cowan, has rated her chances of making it to the German capital as only "50-50". In the circumstances, then, it was a timely boost to see Nicola Sanders on the start line for the women's 400m last night.
The Amersham woman missed World Championship gold in the event by the tantalising margin of 0.04sec in Osaka two years ago, taking silver behind the fast-finishing Ohuruogu.
Since then, her progress has been hampered by a succession of injuries, the most recent being an ankle problem. Still, Sanders showed an impressive turn of speed at an invitation meeting at Rethymino in Crete last Monday, winning in 51.21sec. That placed the 27-year-old second in the British rankings, just behind Ohuruogu, who ran 51.14sec at a meeting in the Parisian suburbs last month.
Last night Sanders was in winning form again. Only just, though. Roared down the home straight by the home crowd, she held off Shana Cox of the USA to win by 0.02sec in 51.54sec. "The time's not great, but it's nice to get another win," she said. "It was hard work into the wind in the home straight."
Sadly, the wind was still blowing strongly when Mo Farah took to the track for his billed attempt at Dave Moorcroft's 27-year-old British 5,000m record. There was a fly Mo finale in the home straight, the adopted Londoner sprinting past Kenyan Sammy Mutahi to win in 13 min 09.04sec. That was a good way shy of the 13:00:41 Moorcroft clocked as a world record on a golden night in Oslo back in 1982.
"It was very windy out there," Farah lamented. "I just wanted to win it, if I couldn't run the time."
There was no win for Phillips Idowu in the triple jump, the Olympic silver medallist finishing a disappointing third with 17.16m. There was also a rare defeat for Yelena Isinbayeva in the women's pole vault, the Russian losing on countback to Anna Rogowska, the vaulting Pole. In fifth place, with a vault of 4.58m, Sale Harrier Kate Dennison broke the British outdoor record for the fourth time this summer. In doing so, she claimed another $5,000 bonus.Reuse content