Usain Bolt in the 200m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London (© Kirby Lee)
Twelve months ago, Usain Bolt cast aside his injury problems with a 9.87 100m at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in London, proving the doubters wrong and kickstarting his bid for another bout of World Championships sprint dominance.
Tonight the world’s greatest athlete returned to the 2012 Olympic Stadium and posted a sub-20-second 200m performance at the Müller Anniversary Games that will send shivers down the spines of his Rio rivals.
Bolt’s first 200m of the season, following a three-week lay-off with a hamstring injury, came in front of more than 40,000 fans at the reconfigured arena on a re-laid Mondotrack/WS that’s said to match the revolutionary surface at Rio’s Joao Havelange stadium, where Bolt will next race when he steps out for round one of the Olympic 100m on 13 August.
If tonight’s action is anything to go by, those lucky enough to be in Brazil are due for a treat, for a clearly undercooked Bolt led well off the bend before tiring in the closing stages to clock 19.89.
With a 9.88 100m behind him this year, Bolt’s need to prove his fitness was not quite as intense as in 2015, but the 29-year-old triple Olympic champion was nevertheless delighted with a time that puts him fifth on the 2016 world list with three weeks of hard training to come.
“I'm getting there, I'm not fully in shape and I need more work,” he said. “But over time I'll be fine. I'll just keep doing the work.
“I tried to go for the kerb but I don't think I executed well. The key thing is I came out here and won, but I'm always hungry for more.”
Bolt’s 200m may have been the climax of the evening’s action, but there was some fast sprinting at the start of the session too when the British women’s 4x100m relay squad smashed their national record, clocking 41.81 to beat Brazil by almost six tenths.
While the Netherlands’ challenge failed at the first exchange, when Dafne Schippers set off too fast, Britain’s Asha Philip, Desiree Henry, Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita looked perfectly drilled as they sped to the fastest time in the world this year.
“We are really confident now going into Rio,” said Philip. No wonder.
The rest of the evening’s non-Diamond-Race action included a 5.90m win for Renaud Lavillenie in the men’s pole vault, a comfortable women’s 400m hurdles win for Dalilah Muhammad in 53.88 and victory for Silas Kiplagat in the annual Emsley Carr Mile.
Since winning the Olympic title here four years ago, Lavillenie has twice leapt above six metres in this stadium, but the Frenchman fell short of that target this evening when he failed to clear 5.97m.
In stark contrast to last year, when the event was postponed due to torrential rain, this year’s action took place on a warm and sunny night of almost negligible wind – near perfect conditions for the vaulters.
Unfortunately, they didn’t include world champion Shawn Barber who withdrew from the contest with illness. That left five-time US champion Sam Kendricks as the Frenchman’s main challenger and he matched Lavillenie to 5.83m before bowing out at 5.90m.
Lavillenie sailed over that with ease, but found the extra seven centimetres too much.
“Every time I perform my best here at this stadium and I am happy to jump well,” he said. “I've done everything I need to in preparation and now I can turn my focus towards Rio.”
World leader Muhammad outbattled Jaide Stepter and Eilidh Doyle to win the 400m hurdles, while Kiplagat led a Kenyan sweep to take the mile in 3:53.04 from Timothy Cheruiyot and Vincent Kibet.
Jake Wightman, son of stadium announcer Geoff, posted a personal best of 3:54.20 in fourth.
Matthew Brown for the IAAF