NASSAU, Bahamas, Apr 21 – Usain Bolt’s absence from the track at the end of the season will be a huge blow to the world of athletics no matter IAAF president Sebastian Coe’s protestations that other athletes are just as deserving as the spotlight.
There can be no denying the worth the towering Jamaican has brought to the sport at a time when it has been hauled over the coals for doping and corruption scandals.
Bolt has won eight Olympic golds and 11 world titles, his sprint dominance importantly matched by a joking, likeable personality that has made him arguably the most marketable sports star in the world.
The ‘elephant in the room’ discussion on who might fill his place is not an easy one.
But one name is constantly mentioned as a potential successor: Canada’s Andre de Grasse.
The 22-year-old Scarborough-born, US-based sprinter won 200m silver and bronzes in both the 100m and 4x100m relay at last year’s Rio Olympics, three races in which Bolt claimed gold.
Speaking after the 200m in Brazil, Bolt backed De Grasse as his successor, the latter adding that the Jamaican said he “feels like I’m the next one, and now I’m just trying to live up to it”.
Not too much pressure to live up to expectations after all-but official anointment as the next world dominating sprinter, then, or is it just motivation?
“It’s a little bit of both,” insisted De Grasse, who will race for the Canadian team in the weekend’s IAAF World Relays in Nassau.
“Of course there’s a little bit more pressure because people are looking at me, but deep down that makes me want to perform.
“But it’s more motivating for me because I’m still young and I know I still have a lot of work to do in this sport to be the best.”
Bolt has opted out of this third edition of the World Relays, with an eye on his swansong world championships in London in August.
And De Grasse, who also won bronzes in the 100m and 4x100m relay at the 2015 Beijing worlds, stressed that he was approaching the relays, which fall early in the season, as “a training session”.
“I love competing with these guys, it’s enjoyable. I’ve known these guys since I started track and field so it’s great to come together at a time like this,” the Canadian said.
Team Canada’s chances in the 4x100m relay, with the added incentive of a place guaranteed at the London worlds for the top eight finishers, depend on the form of strong-looking US and Jamaican teams.
A US quartet featuring Justin Gatlin, also present this time around, notched up a rare victory over a Bolt-led Jamaica in the last World Relays two years ago.
Gatlin is back in the Bahamas eager to notch up further success, while Britain should push the Canadians for a podium place, albeit in the understanding that the baton actually makes it around, never a given.