Yohan Blake toys with idea of being next very fast bowler
Jamaican wants Yorkshire trial – but not before beating Bolt's 150m record
Friday 16 May 2014
If Yohan Blake had his way, he would have been charging in from the Kirkstall Lane End with ball in hand at Headingley in the T20 Blast for the Yorkshire Vikings against the Northants Steelbacks.
It's apt that "The Beast" should aspire to play for the Vikings but instead this weekend he will be hurtling past bemused shoppers in Manchester city centre on a specially laid track for a 150-metre race at the BT Great CityGames.
Today Blake put out a plea to represent the White Rose, which led Kevin Pietersen, like Blake no shrinking violet, to point out "there is a batting slot at number four in the England side for you!" But it is not with willow in hand that the second fastest man on the planet aspires to shine but as a fast bowler. Bearing in mind the potential Yorkshire link-up, there is a slight irony that Blake moulds himself on the bowling of Lancastrian Jimmy Anderson.
Despite his immeasurable running talents, Blake makes no secret of the fact that "cricket is my first love" and the strike bowler for Kingston Cricket Club – for whom he used to play every Sunday until his coach Glenn Mills interceded – seems to have genuine aspirations in the game when his first sporting career is over.
For now, though, Yorkshire's invitation for a nets session will have to wait although he plans to "swing by" Old Trafford after his race today despite talks of a return for one of his idols, Freddie Flintoff, having been put on hold because of an ankle injury.
"I would love him to return," says Blake of the former England all-rounder. "He's a dangerous guy. I remember him coming to the West Indies in 2005, I think I was in school and that guy was so dominant. I really look up to him as I like his aggression and temperament."
Injury too has been the key factor for Blake over the last year. A hamstring tear forced him to miss out on a possible double duel against Usain Bolt at the World Championships in Moscow. But after 10 months out he finally returned to competition in February in a 400m race at the Camperdown Classics in Jamaica.
Those intervening months were tough, and he is not ashamed to admit that tears were shed. "It took a toll on me," he says. "It was the first time in my career I was injured like that. The type of work I had to put in to get back to where I am right now took a lot of work and a lot of crying at night. I wondered to myself 'is this really happening to me?' I had to go a whole year without running, the thing I love.
"I won't say I didn't have fear [about never being able to run at the top again]. I am human and I have fear almost every time. But I said, 'listen, I'm the second fastest man in the universe, I can get back to where I was if I keep working hard in training.' This year I want to get back to the top but it's just good to be back on track now."
This is his first street race and his first time competing over 150m. The day before boarding the plane from Kingston, Jamaica, to the UK, Blake, who has been watching online reruns of Bolt's 2009 world mark of 14.35 seconds at the same venue, took his training partner aside and said, "I'm going for that record." Bolt's response? "It's going to take some running."
While Blake, who has targeted only eight race meetings this season but has yet to commit to the Commonwealth Games, is fighting fit now, it is Bolt who has struggled, a foot problem putting him behind schedule for this season. But when fit, the battle between the two training partners and friends is the most pulsating in world athletics.
It is the 9.58sec over 100m that Bolt ran in Berlin five years ago that Blake aspires to run under. Some scientists suggest that it is physically impossible. "I wouldn't say it's untouchable," says the 24-year-old. "Scientists said the human body couldn't go faster than 9.7 but we have raised the bar. I think it's touchable.
"If I break the world record, it's my time. Usain's had his time and is still having it. I'm not saying Usain is past his peak. But without injury I can do great things. I'm a man of surprises and I love surprising people. My potential is far greater than what I'm running now."
On paper, those lining up to halt the Jamaican sprint hegemony have chequered pasts. Tyson Gay will return to competition this summer after having his doping ban reduced, while his American team-mate Justin Gatlin has twice been on the wrong side of the doping officials. It adds a dark undercurrent to any sprint event.
Blake's view on the issue is slightly blinkered: "I never really think about it because I have enough to think about with my own future. It's bad but I close my mind from it because I don't want to hear anything about it. There's always a little bit of concern in your mind [what people think about all sprinters]. But Tyson Gay is coming back soon, I'm happy, I love running with him, he's a great competitor."
Blake has had his own brush-ins with authorities. Prior to the 2009 World Championships, he tested positive for a stimulant but served only a three-month ban as the substance in question was not on the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list.
But he is adamant he is clean and always has been. "Of course you can believe what you're seeing on the track," before adding of his rivals that, whatever their past, "I can beat them clean".
Since Jamaica came under the Wada spotlight for what were seen as shortcomings in its testing procedure Blake says there has been a noticeable rise in the number of times he has been tested.
One test he would like to undergo is on the speed of his bowling. "I run in so fast and with my strong shoulders you know, I want to see how quick I am through the air," he says. For now, all eyes are on the legs. Testing the bowling arm will have to wait.
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