DAEGU -- Sitting in a conference room in Daegu on Thursday, wearing his traditional yellow cap and boots, Usain Bolt said he was ready to defend his title here.
The world’s biggest track and field event, the 13th IAAF Championships in Athletics, begins with a bang on Saturday, with a star-studded cast of sprinters competing for the men’s 100-meters title.
There is one name that deserves all the attention: Usain Bolt of Jamaica is undoubtedly the hot favorite for Sunday’s final. But for the first time in years the world’s fastest man is looking vulnerable.
Usain Bolt speaks during a press conference at Daeduk Cultural Hall in Daegu on Thursday. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Two years ago when the then 23-year-old broke his own world record for the 100, slashing it from 9.69 seconds to 9.58 seconds, the question was how much quicker he could get, and whether he could even make sub-9.4, believed to be the human limit.
But after suffering an the Achilles tendon injury, Bolt was out of competition in 2010, and has so far run relatively “slow” races.
In May, the Jamaican sprinter won in Rome in 9.91 seconds only 0.02 seconds ahead of his fellow countryman Asafa Powell, and most recently in Monaco he clocked 9.88 seconds to win the title.
Although Bolt has recovered from his injury, he seems not to have returned to his 9.58 form yet. And Bolt must know that better than anyone else.
“I don’t think I’m in 9.5 shape. This season for me is a comeback season for me and I’ve been working hard to bet back in top shape,” he told reporters on Thursday.
Asked whether he felt pressure ahead of the Sunday’s final, Bolt said, “I think people expect a lot from me. But for me the pressure is always there.”
Bolt said he was focused on not only defending his title here, but also becoming a legend in athletics.
“A lot of people have their own goals and my goal is to become a legend, and I think this world championships is the first step in becoming a legend,” he added.
But Bolt admitted earlier that he was not ready for another record breaking run in Daegu, saying “I still need to work on my reaction time, my first 30 meters.”
It seems that Bolt’s task may have become easier with the possible absence of rival and Jamaican compatriot Asafa Powell.
Powell came here looking stronger than ever ahead of the Worlds. He leads the world rankings this year with 9.78 seconds recorded at Lausanne in June.
The 28-year-old claimed before coming to Daegu that he is in the best racing shape since he has been since 2005, when he set his first world record of 9.77 seconds.
However, there has been a new speculation that the 28-year-old would not able to compete in Daegu.
Powell could not join the Jamaican team’s press conference Thursday. Instead Michael Frater told reporters he was replacing the former world record holder in the 100.
Now, without Powell, and Tyson Gay, the 2007 world champion and current world No.2, who withdrew from the championships with a hip injury, the 100 final is likely to be a shoe in for Bolt.
But other competitors hoping to challenge Bolt in Daegu are U.S. national champion Walter Dix, who clocked in 9.94 seconds this season and another young Jamaican hopeful Yohan Blake, who won the London event recently in 9.95 seconds.
And former Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, his four-year drugs ban behind him, is also trying to regain his place at the top of his sport. The first-round heats take place at the newly renovated Daegu Stadium on Saturday, and the men’s 100 final, the blue-riband of the championships, is scheduled at 8:45 p.m. on Sunday.
By Oh Kyu-wook (email@example.com