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Jamaican sprinters brace for life after Bolt

Usain Bolt is the world’s greatest sprinter with eight Olympic golds, 11 world titles and three world records © AFP/File / Theo Karanikos

SHANGHAI, China, May 12 – Usain Bolt’s imminent retirement is a blow for athletics, but a new generation of Jamaican sprinters is ready to try to fill his golden shoes, Olympic champions Elaine Thompson and Omar McLeod said Friday.

Thompson, the Olympic women’s 100m and 200m champion, and 110m hurdles gold medallist McLeod will be among the marquee performers in Saturday’s Shanghai Diamond League competition, which will feature rematches of key Rio Games battles.

Bolt, the greatest sprinter in history with eight Olympic golds, 11 world titles and three world records, will retire from international competition after the world championships in August.

“It’s saddening that he’s retiring, but there is nothing we can do to change his mind,” McLeod said wistfully in Shanghai.

“But what we can do, as young emerging Jamaican athletes, is shine our own lights and try our very best to keep the flag flying high.”

Thompson added: “He’s a legend. He’s done so much for the country. We can’t be like him, but we can follow in his footsteps and motivate each other to continue to raise the flag higher.”

In Shanghai, Thompson will face off in the 100m with America’s Tori Bowie for the first time since they went one-two in Rio, where Thompson became the first woman since Florence Griffith-Joyner in 1988 to win the 100m-200m double.

Jamaica’s new sprint queen has been in good form this year but feels there is still “room for improvement” as she gears up for the world championships in London.

“This is preparation for me to compete for the world championship. So I just have to stay focused,” she said.

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The women’s 100m also will feature Olympic and world long jump champion Tianna Bartoletta of the United States, and Jamaican two-time Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown.

– Rio reprise –

McLeod also has run well lately, clocking the fastest 110m-metre hurdles of the year two weeks ago — a 13.04sec — at the Drake Relays.

He will line up alongside Spain’s Orlando Ortega, who took Olympic silver last year, and a handful of others who have previously run sub-13 times including past world champion Aries Merritt of the United States.

In yet another Rio rematch, Brazilian Thiago Braz will vie with world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie of France in the pole vault.

Braz stunned the Frenchman, the defending champion and hot favourite, last August to take gold with an Olympic record 6.03m in a memorable battle in which Lavillenie was mercilessly jeered by the home crowd.

Speaking at a press conference in Shanghai, the 23-year-old Braz lavished praise on the older Frenchman as an inspiration for his own career.

“I have a dream in my life. It is to be like him. He is the world record-holder,” Braz said.

Sam Kendricks of the United States — last year’s Olympic bronze medallist — will round out the Rio pole vault podium, in one of the stronger event fields in Shanghai.

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Two-time Olympic champion David Rudisha, however, will be the clear favourite in the 800m, with no other Olympic medallists in the field.

A number of top men’s sprinters, including Rio 100m silver medallist Justin Gatlin of the United States, are skipping Shanghai, leaving a depleted field for the race.

Gatlin finished a disappointing fourth at the season-opening Doha Diamond League last week, where unheralded South African Akani Simbine surprisingly outsprinted a world-class field for the win.

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