Athletics: Rivalry stalls as Jamaicans avoid the issue

By Simon Turnbull

As in Lausanne last week, Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake were chasing the trackside clock instead of each other when it came to the penultimate meeting on the IAAF Diamond League circuit in Zurich overnight.

The annual Weltklasse Meeting, first held in 1928, is often referred to as "the one-day Olympics" but there was no repeat of the two head-to-head sprint clashes that gripped the attention at London 2012.

Bolt ran in the 200m and Blake in the 100m, as in Lausanne a week ago. In the Diamond League finale in Brussels, Belgium, next week, Bolt runs in the 100m and Blake the 200m. The Jamaican teammates and training partners are done with their high-speed duelling for the year.

Last week, Blake won the 100m in 9.69s, a time that only Bolt has beaten. Bolt holds the world record at 9.58s. Asked about the prospect of another head-to-head, Blake said: "I'd love to race against him but you'd have to talk big money."

But there is no race planned between the pair before the World Championships in Moscow in August next year, although the chances are they will meet in the Jamaican Championships in Kingston in June or July, as they did in what doubled as the national Olympic trials this summer. They raced in the 100m and 200m in the Jamaican capital, as they did at the Olympics in London, for free.

Bolt and Blake could also be tempted by a big financial offer to meet outside of national or global championship competition next year but Bolt's long-time manager, Ricky Simms, is not in favour of the kind of boxing-style, head-to-head sprint promotion.

"Athletics is a different sport," Simms said. "It's not like boxing. You have to train all year to peak on a certain day and that's what these guys are aiming for. You can't peak on 15 May and 15 June and 15 July and 15 August. It doesn't work like that.

"The people who are always thinking there should be head-to-heads nine months of the year don't really understand athletics. The athletes have to use races to get into shape for the major championships. They will very rarely have big head-to-heads before the major championships.

"That's why the Olympics is so special. If we do this every week it will devalue the big day."

Even doing one-off spectaculars has not paid off. The rematch between Ben Johnson and Carl Lewis in Lille in 1991, after the former's return following a doping suspension, turned into a non-event. Both men were beaten by Dennis Mitchell.

"If Usain and Yohan meet outside the World Championships next year, I think it's more likely to be on the circuit than in any kind of one-off spectacular," Simms said. "It's not a question of money. It's just a question of physically what the guys need to do to run 9.5s or 19.3s.

"The thing is they put so much energy into the Olympic Games. The times were exceptional in the 100 and the 200. I think Tyson Gay summed it up best. He said, 'These guys have to dig so deep to run those very fast times. If they did it every week there would be arms and legs falling off.' They would be getting injured all the time."

Bolt had to work hard this summer to turn the tables on Blake in the 100m and 200m in London after losing to him at both distances in the Jamaican trials.

The head-to-head record between the two training partners stands at 4-3 in Bolt's favour. They have raced each other seven times over the past three summers, exactly as many times as British middle-distance runners Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe clashed in an arm's-length rivalry that stretched to more than a decade.

- Independent

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