Seeing Usain Bolt quoted at a price of 20.00 is as rare as witnessing the England football team win a penalty shoot-out. But that’s what’s on offer about the chances of the world record-holder and defending Olympic champion being disqualified in the 200 metres at the London Games in August.
If “disqualified” in Unibet’s Bolt 200m performance market also encompassed “Bolt does not run in the event”, then the temptation would be to lump on that price, since there are some increasingly daunting barriers in the way of Bolt between now and the London Olympic 200m final on August 9.
First, the big man has yet to race over 200m in 2012.
Before the Jamaican giant’s record-shattering breakthrough in 2008, what American track and field fans call “the deuce” was always reckoned to be his best distance, provided he was never given any of the inner three lanes which cramp the 6ft 6in beanpole’s extra-long stride around the bend.
So Bolt’s decision not to have at least one competitive run-out over 200m in his three European appearances so far this season is, if not astonishing, certainly unusual.
His first 200m of 2012 ought to be this weekend, which brings us to the second obstacle to Bolt’s defence of his Olympic title: the Jamaican national trials.
Unlike the World Championships, where Bolt had a free pass in 2011 on account of his being the defending champion at 100 and 200m from two years earlier, there’s no automatic entry at the Olympic Games. Even the biggest draw card that athletics has ever known needs to earn his place on his national team for the Olympics.
The Jamaican trials begin in Kingston on Thursday. In four days, Bolt will be expected to race at least five times. To be selected for the 100 and for the 200, the Olympic champion and world record-holder must place in the first three.
Jamaica has three of the world’s fastest six 200-metre runners in 2012, and they’ve all already run inside 20.10sec. Nickel Ashmeade, 22, was fifth in last year’s world championship final, won by Bolt as he redeemed himself, partially, following his disqualification in the 100m final in Daegu. Warren Weir, 23, is a former junior hurdler who this year has switched to the flat.
But the biggest threat to Bolt’s dominance has got to be his training partner, Yohan Blake. After seizing the opportunity presented by the champion being DQed to become 100m world champion, he also managed to top the world ranking lists at 200m last year, following an astonishing 19.26sec in Brussels at the end of the season.
That was the first time in five years that Bolt has not been at the top of the world standings at 100 or 200m at the end of a season. And Blake is right up at the top of the 2012 world lists, too, having already run 19.91 in Kingston at the beginning of May.
So Bolt can afford no slip ups just to make the Jamaican team.
And that brings us to the third and possibly most serious obstacle between Bolt and the Olympic 200m final: his health and fitness.
Two weeks ago, Bolt crashed his car returning home from a late-night party. It was Bolt’s second car crash in three years. For someone who requires a minimum of an hour’s orthopaedic massage every day to relieve the stresses of a congenital spine problem, driving sports cars off the highway at speed is not recommended.
Bolt has not been seen in race action since. Reports after the crash said he was unharmed. Not until he lines up for his 100m heat in Kingston late on Thursday will that assessment be put to the test.
Because of such uncertainty, and the flying form of Blake and the American sprinters in action in the US Olympic trials in Eugene this week, the 3.50 offered by Unibet on the field to beat Bolt in the Olympic 200m final looks a good bet.
As for his likely finishing time if he takes his place in the 200m final in London, it is worth considering that Bolt’s world record, 19.19sec, was set nearly three years ago. That came in a world championship final after he had already had a gruelling six races in the preceding few days.
But since 2009, Bolt has failed to get within two-tenths of a second of his own best time.
With London’s often cool and unfavourable weather conditions for sprinting, you can confidently discount the 15.0 offered on him going faster than 19.00sec, and I wouldn’t look at 5.50 for a sub-19.10sec time with any confidence, either. The 3.25 offered, effectively on Bolt breaking the world record by running between 19.11 and 19.18, does not tempt much, either.
So 1.55 on Bolt running slower in the Olympic final than his world record has got to be seen as an investment. Provided, of course, the Jamaican actually makes it through to the final.