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Life after a legend: the 100m sprinters stepping into Bolt’s shoes in Tokyo

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Ashley Landis/AP</span>
Photograph: Ashley Landis/AP

This is what we know about the men’s 100m final in Tokyo:

  • Armed with his three Olympic 100m golds and a seemingly unapproachable world record, Usain Bolt is now happily retired. His twin sons Thunder and St Leo arrived a few weeks ago.

  • The reigning world champion, Christian Coleman, is banned from competing until November after missing three drug tests in a year.

  • The track’s great new showman, Noah Lyles, messed up in the US trials, finishing seventh. He won’t be in the 100, though he’s red-hot favourite for the 200.

  • Father Time finally caught up with Bolt’s perennial nemesis, Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion, who will be 40 next year. In the trials final he struggled over the line last, clutching his damaged hamstring.

  • The spectacle of the most eagerly anticipated event of the Games will be considerably less electric than normal, with no fans allowed into the new Olympic stadium.

Related: Dina Asher-Smith warns Jamaican and US rivals she will deliver at Olympics

So given these facts, you would be forgiven for thinking this blue riband event was not simply Hamlet without the prince, but bereft of the entire main cast. The truth is a little different. A new order of sprinting talent has assembled.

The American production line once again created an astonishing array of sprinters, and fans at the US Olympic Trials, held a few weeks ago in Oregon, witnessed a stellar race, with the top four all going under 9.90sec. The winner, in 9.80, was the slim figure of Trayvon Bromell.

Bromell’s story is one of pain, hard work, faith and redemption. He comes from “The Trenches”, a tough neighbourhood on the south side of St Petersburg, Florida. “It ain’t no Disneyland,” was his succinct description. After a stellar college career he was touted as the new sprinting wonder, but after finishing last in the 100m final in Rio, he was dogged by recurring injury, operations and even a doctor’s verdict that he should just give it all up.

His comeback has been uplifting and the quietly-spoken 25-year-old has the unshakeable view that God has a plan for him.

Second in the US trials was the likeable Kentuckian Ronnie Baker, a sprinter who was going toe-to-toe with Coleman back in 2018 before injury struck him down, but now running into some real form.

Canada&#x002019;s Andre De Grasse could be in the running for a medal
Canada’s Andre De Grasse could be in the running for a medal. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

The big surprise was the towering figure of third placed Fred Kerley – the 400m bronze medallist from the 2019 world championships in Doha – who decided to scratch from the quarter and attack the shorter distance. The Texan’s 9.86 suggests he made the right call.

It’s hard to look beyond the Americans, but history tells us that accidents often happen. And if they did, who would pick up the pieces? Don’t underestimate the Canadian Andre De Grasse, bronze medallist in both Rio and Doha, while South Africa can also boast some special talent – – Akani Simbine ran an African record 9.84 in early July while TG Leotlela has also run under 10 seconds this year. For the home fans, Hiroshima-born Ryota Yamagata – who scorched a personal best 9.95 last month – will benefit from the local crowd whatever its size.

And the Brits? No British sprinter has broken 10 seconds this season, so it will be tough for any of them to make the final, but it would be some achievement if Enfield’s CJ Ujah, who has a 2021 10.03 under his belt and won the British trials, could force his way through. And there’s usually a wildcard flying up on the rails that nobody considered.

However, the only sprinter with a sub 9.80 in his pocket this season is Bromell. The 9.77 he ran in Florida back in June, shows he’s in the form of his life and if he can remain injury free and survive the demanding rounds of the competition, it’s very hard to see any other winner.

Neil Duncanson is the author of The Fastest Men on Earth: The Inside Stories of the Olympic Men’s 100m Champions

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