Usain Bolt after winning the 100m (© AFP / Getty Images)
Usain Bolt gave an emphatic demonstration of his readiness for an Olympic three-peat by running 9.88 (1.0m/s) to win the 100m at the JN Racers Grand Prix in Kingston, Jamaica on Saturday night (11).
The contest itself was worthy of an Olympic final with Bolt, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell – three Jamaicans ranked in the top four on the world all-time list – coming together in a rare face-off. This was their fourth meeting, and once again it was the world record-holder who reigned supreme.
Bolt, who was drawn in lane four between Blake on his right and Powell to his left, got off to a disastrous start, rekindling visions of what happened in the semi-final at the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015.
However, the six-time Olympic champion recovered quickly midway through the race and responded with his familiar unrelenting top-end speed from the 60-metre mark to power away to a scintillating victory. Bolt even had the audacity to ease down considerably in the final 10 metres.
“I’m happy I got a season best," said Bolt afterwards. "It wasn’t a perfect race but the key thing is that I actually won and that’s a good thing and I came out injury-free. It’s all about execution sometimes and even if you don’t get it you have to be strong, composed and just run through the line.”
Nickel Ashmeade was a surprise runner-up, edging 2011 world champion Blake at the finish line with both registering identical season’s best times of 9.94. Powell rounded out the top four with his first legal sub-10 this season, running 9.98, thereby making it the first time this season that four men have gone below 10 seconds in the same race.
Van Niekerk moves to third on world all-time 300m list
Track and field fans got a sneak preview of what will be one of the biggest clashes at the Olympics when South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk defeated LaShawn Merritt of the USA and Botswana’s Isaac Makwala in the rarely contested men’s 300m, clocking the third-fastest time in history, 31.03.
Prior to this meeting, it was Merritt who held the third (31.30) and fourth (31.31) best times in this event, behind all-time greats Michael Johnson (30.85) and Usain Bolt (30.97).
Van Niekerk, the world champion over 400m, was drawn in lane three inside Merritt and Makwala, but it was Makwala who went out fastest, like a man desperately trying to outrun his shadow. He led the field into the bend, but as the runners approached the 150-metre mark, Merritt started to quicken his pace which triggered a simultaneous reaction from Van Niekerk, who began to shift through the gears.
By the time they entered the home straight it was still a close affair with Merritt and Van Niekerk entertaining hopes of victory, but the final 50 metres saw the South African sprint sensation power his way to victory in 31.03, breaking his own African record by 0.6. “I competed against a quality field and I’m just glad I could come away with the win," said Van Niekerk. "I’m always happy to improve my times."
Back in second, Merritt improved his PB to 31.23.
National record for Miller
In the women's 200m, Shaunae Miller of The Bahamas showed impressive speed when breaking her own national record with 22.05 (0.8m/s), the third fastest time in the world this year. The 400m world silver medallist's previous best was 22.14, run in Kingston last year.
Jenna Prandini of the US was next home in 22.39, with Jamaica's Audra Segree third in 22.89.
However, for sentimental reasons the women’s 100m caused the most excitement in the female sprints for the 20,000 Jamaican fans present as world and Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who has been beset by a toe injury, competed on home soil over 100m for the first time this season.
Fraser-Pryce lined up against long-time antagonist Carmelita Jeter of the US, the second fastest female sprinter of all time, and 2011 world bronze medallist Kelly-Ann Baptiste.
As is her style, Fraser-Pryce left the blocks in a hurry and she was clearly in front at the halfway stage.
She soon faced a strong challenge from world indoor 60m champion Barbara Pierre, but she maintained her composure to clinch victory in a season's best of 11.09 (0.6m/s). Pierre clocked 11.11 and Baptiste 11.15 to claim the other podium spots.
Fraser-Pryce admitted afterwards that she still has some challenges. “It has been a long season and an uphill battle and the pain is there, but the mind is strong," she said. "I came out here and just wanted to have a good run and I was really excited about that.”
Dutch improves world lead to 48.10
The men’s 400m hurdles saw USA's Johnny Dutch establish a new world lead when he outclassed the field to win in 48.10, which easily surpassed his previous best performance in 2016 of 48.36.
Dutch came home well in front of his rivals, with Jamaica's Roxroy Cato second in 48.98.
The men’s 200m produced a big upset as Miguel Francis – an upcoming sprinter from Antigua and Barbuda who trains in Jamaica – defeated a quality field by a healthy margin to win in 19.88, moving him to the third on the 2016 top lists. Julian Forte was second in 20.18 and Olympic bronze medallist Warren Weir was third in 20.32.
Another highpoint of the meeting came in the men’s 400m, which saw four men running below 45 seconds. Trinidad & Tobago’s world junior champion Machel Cedenio ran aggressively throughout, outclassing the field to win in 44.37, just 0.01 off his PB, which moves him to fifh in the world in 2016.
Grenada’s Bralon Taplin was second in 44.76 and Jamaica’s Javon Francis finished third in 44.81, with Cedenio’s teammate Lalonde Gordon fourth in 44.84.
In the women’s equivalent world bronze medallist Shericka Jackson won in a season’s best time of 50.72 over compatriot Christine Day (51.22).
In the men's 110m hurdles, 2013 world champion David Oliver recorded his fastest time this season, running 13.09 (0.2m/s) to take victory and move him to second on this year’s top list behind world leader Omar McLeod of Jamaica.
In the women’s 100m hurdles world champion Danielle Williams was upstaged for the second time this season on home turf. USA's Sharika Nelvis relegated the Jamaican to second, winning in 12.61 (0.3m/s) to Williams’ 12.77.
Noel Francis for the IAAF