Track & Field
Yohan Blake has much to be proud of as an athlete. He is the quickest man in the world this year and the reigning sprint world champion. He is the man who beat the fastest man ever.
He is the man who has enlivened the Games by changing the prism through which we view the Olympic sprint final. No longer is it a case of Usain Bolt turning up to collect gold medals. Now the question is seriously being asked whether Bolt can get past Blake.
But Blake does not consider any of these things his proudest sporting achievement. No, Blake is most proud of the fact that earlier this year in a Sunday league match for Kingston Cricket Club he took career-best figures of 4-10.
He don't like cricket. Oh, no. He loves it.
Blake is an Olympian; possibly in a few days' time he will be the new Olympic champion sprinter, but he is also a cricketer. Unsurprisingly for a Jamaican who runs very quick, he is a fast bowler.
His first love growing up at Bogue Hill near Montego Bay was cricket, and it was only after the school principal saw how quickly he ran to the wicket that he was urged to try sprinting.
But he has not completely put away the whites. This week he admitted to spending his time between training and preparing by watching cricket. When the Olympics are over, he will holiday by playing in Twenty20 matches back at home.
Blake is the man who would deny Bolt his ambition to be the first man to win consecutive 100 metres and 200m Olympic gold medals. Bolt, who still holds the 100m world record time of 9.58 seconds, is chasing the golds to ensure he is not remembered as more than just the man who for a time was really quick and won a few medals.
His Twitter page profile asserts that he is ''the most naturally gifted athlete the world has ever seen''. He demands to be not only peerless in this era but any.
''This will be the moment, and this will be the year, when I set myself apart from other athletes in the world,'' Bolt said. ''A lot of legends, a lot of people, have come before me, but this is my time.''
He made the same sort of braggardly comment 11 months ago on the eve of the world championships in Daegu, South Korea, when he said he intended to sweep the meeting so he would be recorded as more than a sprinter - as a legend.
He then promptly ensured memories of his world championships would be indelible when he dramatically got himself disqualified for a clumsy false start in the 100m. It was like Brian Lara going out hit-wicket for a duck.
That disqualification was a shock - Blake went on to win that world title in the race without Bolt - but not nearly as surprising as what has occurred this year.
In May in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Bolt took more than 10 seconds to cover 100m for the first time in three years. ''I had a bad start and had no feeling the whole race,'' Bolt said after the race, which he still won.
''My legs kinda felt dead. I don't know the reason. The first 40 metres were really bad. I never felt the power out of my legs.''
He then lost two races in three days at the Jamaican Olympic trials, to Blake in the 100m (Blake won in 9.75s - 0.11s quicker than Bolt) and the 200m (Blake crossed in 19.80s, with Bolt 0.03s behind). Suddenly the world of athletics was turned on its head.
''It's always good to lose, it wakes you up,'' Bolt said in a recent interview. Time will tell if this was blind optimism or sage professionalism.
''What can I do? You can only do your work and let people believe what they want. I work my hardest because I know what it takes to be a champion. I know what I want and I'm focused on what I need to do to win.''
Others are not quite as convinced that Bolt has done the work. He has a reputation for partying, and admitted after the Ostrava loss that he was tired at the time and needed to sleep. Wonder why that was?
Former Olympic 100m champion Maurice Greene said this week he was convinced Blake would defeat Bolt in the final because he had seen no evidence that Bolt had put in the work over the past four years.
He said Bolt had technical problems in his 100m running that were evident two years ago, and he had done nothing to fix them.
One of the technical issues Bolt has had to confront is his - relatively - slow starts. A big man - he is 196 centimetres tall and weighs 91 kilograms - he takes slightly longer than other runners to rise and power into a rhythm from the blocks, but then once he does, his longer than normal stride means he rapidly reins in the other runners and gallops past them. Recently though the slow starts have been slightly slower and the gearing up that would ordinarily have allowed him to kick past Blake harder to find.
''I have learnt not to worry about the start any more,'' he said. ''My coach says I was never a good starter, and I am never going to be a good starter, and I should just go out there and run. On the blocks, I have moved past that. I am not worried about the start. It's all about execution, that's where I am the best at what I do.''
Lost in the focus on Bolt's slow start, Greene said, was that in the Jamaican trials, Blake too was slow out of the blocks.
''He was right back there with Bolt. They both had bad starts, and Blake was still able to come out victorious in that race. I mean, even though he [Bolt] is having slow starts he still gets second though, so he is still able to overcome some things. [Bolt] is healthy now, there is no problem with injuries or anything else [Bolt had admitted to hamstring soreness after the Jamaica trials but has since said he is fully fit once more]. He is just trying to fix the problems he is having, and he has been having the problems for about two years now. He didn't fix them then [two years ago], and I haven't seen them being fixed this year, so from that it seems to me he is going to continue to have them, and that is why Blake is going to win.''
Bolt might not have done the work to fix his technical problems but there could be no such doubt about the work Blake has done.
''Why do they call me 'The Beast'?'' Blake said in a recent interview. ''Because even when we have breaks, I still train. On Christmas break, coach [Glen] Mills [who is also Bolt's coach] has to call and say, 'You are on a break. You need to take some rest.'
''That is how I work. When you guys are sleeping at night, I am out there working. That's why they call me the Beast. I work twice as hard as everybody else.''
Where Bolt likes to party, Blake likes to play dominoes at home. The pair have continued to work and train together despite the tight professional rivalry between them.
When Blake came to train with coach Mills, Bolt was already entrenched as the best runner in the world, and that was the pecking order in the Jamaican team as well.
When Blake beat Bolt, it was assumed Bolt would reconsider whether they should continue to train together, but they have defied those expectations, and the two men whom most figure will quinella in the 100m final have continued to work side by side.
Four years ago in Beijing, Bolt ate chicken nuggets before the race and ran with his shoelace undone and still won comfortably. It is doubtful it will be that easy this time.
''For me, it's always about the championships. It's never about one race, it's never about the trials,'' he said.
Ironically, the upstaging of Bolt by Blake has not diminished the appeal of the blue ribbon event; on the contrary. London had one million people apply for the 80,000 seats in the Olympic Stadium to be there at 9.50pm London time to see if this son of poor grocery store owners could be the first man to successfully defended his 100m Olympic and 200m titles or if Blake can dislodge his 4-10 as his proudest sporting achievement, at least until he picks up a five-wicket haul.
-Sydney Morning Herald