At 9.50pm on Sunday evening, barring any shock in the semi-final, the eyes of the world will fall on The Honourable Usain St Leo Bolt.
Bolt is the five-time world and three-time Olympic gold medallist. He is arguably the most recognisable sportsman on the planet, and certainly the most marketable. With a world record of 9.58, he is the fastest man to ever run the 100 metres.
At 4/5, he’s also the clear favourite to become the only man to retain a 100 metre Olympic title since Carl Lewis became the first sprinter to do just that in Seoul in 1988.
But can he be beaten? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is, he already has been. At the Jamaican national championships in June, three runners ran under ten seconds in the 100m, with training partner Blake clocking a winning 9.75seconds, ahead of Bolt (9.86) and Asafa Powell (9.88). It was a new personal best for Blake, and also remains the fastest time of 2012 – the fourth fastest of all time.
A day later, Bolt was beaten again, by Blake again, in the event he’s arguably stronger in, the 200m. Coming after his shock disqualification in Daegu in 2011 that saw him lose his World 100m title to Blake, it was another in a line of unexpected disappointments for the man who had seemed unstoppable in Beijing.
Bolt has since admitted to feeling only 95% fit coming into these Games, and esteemed pundits like Michael Johnson and Darren Campbell have raised some doubts as to whether he’s even at that level.
The antics have been reduced, the post-race interviews shorter. Bolt is not the all-conquering, confident beast he once was. His heat time of 10.09 was the slowest of his main rivals, and while he can claim to have slowed up before the end, the same can be said of Blake (10.00), Gay (10.08), Gatlin (9.97), Powell (10.04) and Bailey (9.88).
Gatlin (20/1 to win) is back from a controversial drugs ban and defeated teammate Gay (20/1) in the US trials, with Gay also looking something near his 9.69 best again after a tough few years with injury.
With Bolt expected to not only entertain the crowd with his trademark tricks, win the race and even break the world record again, the pressure is off his rivals. In particular Blake should thrive knowing that he has form and confidence in his favour but still isn’t expected to take gold. At 6/4, it seems too good an opportunity to miss.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing