KINGSTON, Jamaica, July 2 – Jamaican sprint star Usain Bolt is facing a race against time to be fit in his bid for an unprecedented third treble Olympic gold with the Rio Games just five weeks away.
Bolt withdrew from the 100m final of the Jamaican Olympic Trials on Friday with what the reigning Olympic champion described as a mildly torn left hamstring.
The prospect of the 29-year-old 100 and 200m world record holder, seeking his third consecutive Olympic titles in the 100, 200 and 4x100m relay, missing the Games will rightly give organisers and fans palpitations.
Bolt enjoys near-mythical status in athletics, his track performances making the six-time Olympic gold medallist one of global sport’s most recognisable faces, a surefire crowd draw.
He also represents the image of “clean” athletics at a time when the sport is being dragged through the mud over state-sponsored Russian doping linked to widespread corruption within world governing body the IAAF.
All parties interested in the Olympics will be hoping all is done to ensure the presence of one of the world’s highest paid athletes in Rio.
Unlike the United States, where only the top three finishers in any event are selected, Jamaica employs a more flexible rule whereby athletes can still be chosen if they meet certain criteria.
To fall into that category, the athlete must be top ranking, produce a medical exemption and be able to prove fitness before the Games.
“Athletes who are ranked/listed in the top three in the world for their event who are ill or injured at the time of the National Championships and are granted an exemption from competing at the Championships may still be considered for selection provided that they are able to prove their world ranking form prior to the final submission of the entries for the competition,” state the Jamaican athletics federation’s rules.
Bolt clocked 9.88 seconds over 100m at a meeting in Kingston on June 11, the second-fastest time in the world this year.
But it is less than clear in the 200m, Bolt not having raced his self-professed favoured event this season, so not figuring in the top three in the world.
The Jamaican likely must now prove his fitness over 200m at the Diamond League meet July 22 in London to have a hope of running the event in Rio.
That means a tight 20-day recovery period, something not lost on Bolt.
“Starting the recovery process right away,” the sprinter tweeted Saturday along with two photos of him seemingly receiving electrotherapy treatment on his left hamstring.
Bolt had explained that he had felt “discomfort in my hamstring after the first round last night and then again in the semi-final tonight”.
“I was examined by the Chief Doctor of the National Championships and diagnosed with a Grade 1 tear.
“I have submitted a medical exemption to be excused from the 100m final and the remainder of the National Championships.”
A grade one tear is classified as the most minor of hamstring injuries. Grade two is typically a partial tear with grade three a complete tear that might require months to heal.
JAAA secretary-general Garth Gayle warned Friday that unless Bolt showed up for his 200m heat at the trials on Saturday he could lose that place on the Olympic team.
But Gayle added: “Bolt has very smart people in his camp and they will know what to do.”