It should have been at the Palace in London next week, but instead Usain Bolt will be putting his crown as the king of the sprint world on the line in the Olympic Stadium here in the Swedish capital tonight. The first meeting of the year between the fastest man on the planet and the next two quickest, Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, had been scheduled for the Aviva London Grand Prix – until Bolt and his advisers decided to back out of the meeting at Crystal Palace next Friday and Saturday because of the punitive UK tax laws.
Had the Jamaican raced at the south London track, he would have lost 50 per cent of his appearance fee and prize money to HM Revenue and Customs plus a proportion of his total world-wide annual earnings. If he competed in 10 meetings this year, and just once on British soil, Bolt would be liable to pay tax on a 10th of his global income from all races and endorsements. And that would be a sizeable whack.
The 23-year-old is believed to earn some £3.5m a year in sponsorship deals from Puma, Gatorade and Digicel. His appearance fee is understood to be around £200,000 per event and tonight's DN Galan meeting here, part of the International Association of Athletics Federations' Samsung Diamond League series, will be his sixth engagement on the international circuit this year.
"It's sad," Bolt lamented yesterday, after taking the stage with Gay at the pre-event press conference at a hotel next to the Central Station in Stockholm. "I was supposed to go to London. There's a big Jamaican base there and they look forward to seeing us athletes every year. I hope they work it out for the future."
The immediate future for Bolt is the 100m stretch in Stockholm's 1912 Olympic Stadium tonight. He has been drawn in the second of two heats, due off at 6.20pm British time, in a field that includes Coventry's finest, Marlon Devonish. The final is scheduled for 7.56pm and, sadly, Jamaica's second finest sprinter will not be in it. Powell withdrew from the "big three" contest overnight, citing back and hamstring problems, leaving a straight head-to-head between Bolt and Gay, unless some other speed merchant can manage to get in among the two fastest men in history, that is. The pair have met just twice before in 100m races and on both occasions the world record fell.
At the Reebok Grand Prix in New York in 2008 Bolt prevailed in 9.72sec with Gay second in 9.85sec. At the World Championships in Berlin last August Bolt blitzed home in 9.58sec. Gay took the silver medal in 9.71sec.
At all distances, the score actually stands at 6-4 in favour of the American, Gay having enjoyed the edge over Bolt in their days as 200m rivals, between 2003 and 2007. The Jamaican, however, has not been beaten in a 100m race, other than when easing down in a championship heat, since he lost to Powell in the DN Galan meeting here in the run up to the Beijing Olympics two years ago.
"It's a big race," Bolt said. "In Jamaica, people keep saying, 'You can't let Tyson beat you.' The last time I lost here I was in better shape, so I'll have to be very focused."
Bolt and Gay have been hampered by injury this summer and have yet to get into the high speed stride they hit in that World Championship final in Berlin 12 months ago. "I think this season I have slacked off a little bit," Bolt confessed.
"Maybe that's why I got injured," he added. "I was not really focused because my coach said this was kind of going to be my off season, so I wasn't stressing."
Not that Bolt is ever stressing, even in World Championship or Olympic seasons. Asked about the long-term future yesterday, he said the Rio Olympics in 2016 would bring down the curtain on his career. And after that? "I'm going to get myself an office," Bolt mused, "an empty space with a big chair, a table, and a big screen television. And then I'm going to put my feet up."
Bolt v Gay: A world record rivalry
2007 World Championships, Osaka Tyson Gay took the 200m final in 19.76sec in their first meeting, eclipsing Usain Bolt who came second in 19.91. Later at the same Championships Gay was part of the American quartet that won the 4x100m relay in 37.38, with Bolt's Jamaican team coming in second.
2009 World Championships, Berlin Bolt triumphed brilliantly in the 100m final with a world record 9.58 in the Olympic Stadium as Gay sealed silver with 9.71. Bolt bagged another gold, and another world record, in the 200m final with a time of 19.19, after Gay withdrew. Bolt's third gold came in the 4x100m relay as Jamaica ran 37.31.