The hype and hoop-la generated by Usain Bolt’s keenly awaited triple-triple has somewhat shadowed the other star athletes preparing for track-and field action starting Friday. In a message last week to his 4 million followers on twitter, Bolt beckoned everyone to watch him make Olympic history at the Rio Games. No one has ever done the even the double-triple by winning 100m, 200m and 4×100 relay just as Bolt did in 2008 Beijing Olympics and four years later in London. This is the Jamaican’s last Olympic appearance and he will attempt to create magic by winning these three events all over again. The one man most likely to spoil Bolt’s party is American Justin Gatlin, who has recorded the fastest time in 100m this year. For quite some time, the Bolt-Gatlin duel has been likened to some famous sporting rivalries of past years. No sports lover can ever forget the famous duels between boxing supermen Muhammad Ali and George Foreman; middle-distance titans Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett and tennis legends John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. However, the heightened expectations from short sprint events cannot take away the shine from a larger athletics canvas. Besides Bolt, three women athletes are looking for their own triples at Rio. These are Ethiopian long-distance runner Tirunesh Dibaba in 10000m, New Zealand shot putter Valerie Adams and Jamaican pocket-rocket and 100m specialist Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce. They have all won gold medals in Beijing and London and they will be hell bent for the third straight gold at Rio. Besides, the athletics scenario will be intense and colorful and Usain Bolt will be a part of it in the true sense.
— Usain St. Leo Bolt (@usainbolt) August 7, 2016
No one wants to deny that Usain Bolt has captured people’s mindset and a large media space for his sprinting capabilities that come with world and Olympic records in 100 and 200m sprints. In an age of aggressive marketing, Bolt is the walking billboard of several products and a powerful brand ambassador. With businesses seriously using sports as a platform, it is a win-win situation for commerce and sports. The Jamaican has reaped the benefits as well and already amassed a fortune for himself. But cutting back to the 2016 Rio Games, athletics will capture center-stage from Friday onwards. Regardless of several disciplines in the quadrennial extravaganza, athletics competitions in Olympics are inarguably the heart and soul of the Games. While Usain Bolt will be keenly watched, there are others, who could set the track-and-field scenario afire with their performances. Some of them are mentioned below.
USA’s Allyson Felix had a heart-break, when she couldn’t qualify for 200m sprint for Rio Games during the US trials. She won the gold at London and would have liked to defend the title but the strict US trial regulations left no chance for her. The same thing happened to Kendra Harrison in the 100m hurdles. But Felix, who won 200m, 4x100m and 4×400 relay golds at London, will still compete in 400m, 4x100m and 4×400 relays. One woman athlete to be closely watched is the heptathlon-specialist-turned-short-sprinter Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands. During the 2012 London Games, she clocked the third fastest time in 200m history, while competing in heptathlon. Schippers is full time sprinter now and with Allyson Felix missing, she is in line for the 200m sprint gold at Rio. Besides, Schippers can also challenge Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce for the top finish in the 100m podium.
Then there is the immortal Mo Farah of Great Britain, the reigning Olympic champion in 5000 and 10,000m. Farah has promised his friends about seeking the historic Olympic double in Rio. One unforgettable highlight of 2012 London Games was the Mobot Celebration. In the very last athletic action at London’s Olympic stadium, 80000 people remained glued to their seats to watch Farah receive his 5000m gold. Like the proverbial bolt from the blue, Usain Bolt suddenly presented himself to join his British friend. While everyone intently watched, the pair exchanged race celebrations with Farah emulating Bolt’s signature bow-and-arrow pose while Bolt took his hands over his head to make the M-shape and did the Mobot. Wild cheering followed and that picture found the front pages of several British tabloids.
Ashton Eaton is an incomparable decathlete and a strong gold medal hope for USA. The reigning Olympic and World Champion is only the second person in history to break the 9000 point barrier in 2012 with 9039. During the 2015 world championships in Beijing, Eaton broke his own record with 9045.
Two athletes in short sprints can possibly make their impact at Rio. With Bolt and Gatlin going out of scene after Rio, Canadian Andre De Grasse and American Trayvon Bromell may assume prominence in later years. They are both 21 years of age and in 100m sprint; they finished in the joint third place behind Bolt and Gatlin at Beijing last year. Another athlete, who has stayed in Bolt’s shadows, is his compatriot Yohan Blake. After Bolt’s WR time of 9.58 seconds, Blake is the second fastest to have run 100m in 9.69. Nicknamed as the Beast, Blake has picked up a spate of injuries in recent years, but when he strikes form, Blake can push Bolt to the wire in 100 and 200m. Since he will also be a part of Jamaican 4×100 team, Blake can certainly hope to win his third Olympic gold at Rio.
As mentioned earlier, three women athletes would be eying for their third successive Olympic gold medals in Rio. Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba won 10000m at Beijing and London and she will attempt to do it for the third time at Rio. The same goes for New Zealander Valerie Adams in shot put and Jamaica’s Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce in 100m sprint. Of many others in line for Olympic gold at Rio are; Colombian woman triple jumper Caterine Ibarguen, Pole-vault world record holder Frenchman Renaud Lavillenie, Croatian woman discus specialist Sandra Perkovic, Britain’s woman heptathlon star Jessica Ennis-Hill, 18-year old American woman high jumper Vashti Cunningham, American men’s triple jumper Christian Taylor and Polish men’s discus thrower Piotr Malachowski.