The Calvin Report: Bolt must beware Beast and Bad Boy

The men's 100m world record-holder no longer exudes certainty – unless the Jamaican is bluffing

It's showtime. The Lightning Bolt, The Beast and The Bad Boy are in town tonight, to renew their rivalry, and reconfirm the identity of the world's fastest man.

They won't need the Olympic Stadium's usual techno soundtrack, and the infantile ramblings of an MC who labours under the impression he is the main attraction.

The track is fast, and the portents for a new world 100 metres record are encouraging.

Intriguing questions remain unanswered, after a day of bluff and double bluff. Is Usain Bolt hiding technical flaws, or indulging in a giant confidence trick? Is the Beast, Yohan Blake, ready to pounce? Can Justin Gatlin become the most infamous Olympic champion of his generation? Even the renegade American, who has twice been suspended for drug offences, acknowledges: "The only person who can beat Bolt is Bolt." This is an athlete, remember, who made history on a diet of chicken nuggets. He won his last Olympic gold medal without bothering to tie his shoelaces.

He knows that his life is defined by less than 30 seconds work, every four years. Absurd when assessed in isolation, yet entirely logical when his social and commercial impact is taken into account.

Alone of the contenders for the Games' most cherished title, Bolt has the ability to levitate an audience. When he emerged into intermittent sunshine for his first-round chores he was greeted by a primal scream of recognition by the 80,000 crowd. They rose from their seats in a strange, instinctive act of homage.

Bolt bounced on his heels like an impatient boxer, and mouthed "number one baby" to the omnipresent TV camera. His race was billed as a sprint, but he gave it the air of a midweek jog around the park by the Old Fartlekians.

He stumbled at the start, recovered his composure after three, faltering strides, and was strolling just after halfway.

The young Briton James Dasaolu, drawn alongside him, even tried to shake his hand as they decelerated after crossing the line. It was a bizarre gesture of respect which underlined Bolt's capacity to give his peers the mentality of spectators.

The Jamaican's time, 10.09sec, was an irrelevance. His rivals were left to read between the lines of his subsequent statement that he has taken a conscious decision not to concentrate on his perceived weaknesses at the start.

We will have an insight into the legitimacy of that particular mind game in this evening's second semi- final, when Bolt will be obliged to counter the emerging American Ryan Bailey, whose qualifying time, 9.88, equalled his personal best. The obvious threat is his training partner, Blake, who prefers a quiet game of dominoes to Bolt's party lifestyle. He ran 10sec dead, easing down 20 metres from the line.

Team GB's Adam Gemili, whose smile lit up the stadium on qualifying, will have another educational experience when he lines up alongside Blake in the semi-final. In the land of the laid-back, Blake has the hunger of a contender. His intensity is convincing, and his nickname adds to the plot.

"When you guys are sleeping at night I am out there working," he insisted. "That's why they call me The Beast. I work twice as hard as everybody else."

Gatlin, the second-fastest qualifier, appears to have the easiest of the three semi-finals. Only Asafa Powell, whose dyed ginger goatee gives him the look of an eccentric uncle, seems likely to stretch him.

A gold medal for Gatlin, a trash-talking testosterone-fuelled throwback who is unapologetic on his return from a four-year drug ban, is athletics' worst nightmare.

There is no contrition – he blames a steroidal cream, applied by a masseur, for his downfall – and no conscience at the damage he has inflicted on his sport

"The critics are going to say whatever they want, probably for the rest of my career," he acknowledges. "I really don't get hung up on who I need to prove myself to. When I wake up, I'm Justin."

That's the problem. Sponsors don't want to be associated with someone who failed in his supposedly sacred duty to be a standard bearer for a new generation of world-class sprinters. They are hardly doing handstands at the prospect of Dwain Chambers, who is in Bolt's semi-final, making the most of the opportunity he won in a courtroom. He won his heat in 10.02, and was immediately ambushed by his reputation.

"Is this race going to be clean?" he was asked by an American writer as he stopped to chat in the mixed zone beneath the stand. It felt like an accusation rather than a question.

"That's not on my mind," Chambers replied with admirable equanimity. "I just want to go out and compete. I've learned at my age to try to set the right example. I'm doing this for my team, my friends, and my family."

Athletics, like cycling, has never allowed the noxious fumes of the chemists to disperse. It needs a pure and passionate 100 metre champion. Any bitterness in his back story will be exaggerated. The sport is struggling to sell itself in an overcrowded marketplace, and it needs heroes.

Bolt was the answer to a million prayers, but no longer exudes a sense of certainty. His is the biggest brand of these Games, but it has been tarnished by sudden failure.

Of course, it will be entirely in character if Bolt flies out of his blocks tonight, and removes 9.58 from the record books. But these are strange times. Beware The Beast.

News
Jeremy Clarkson
people
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own