By 9.50 tonight we should know for certain whether track and field’s Lightning Bolt really can strike twice.
After more than a month without a race, Usain Bolt, the defending Olympic 100 metres champion, did not impress too much with his first-round run-out yesterday lunchtime, though he still rates as 1.75 favourite, ahead of the world and - importantly in this context - Jamaican champion, Yohan Blake.
Blake won his first-round in a very comfortable 10.00sec. Bolt’s heat win in 10.09sec had all the look of a man who needed the race. Bolt almost stumbled out of his blocks, as for the first time in nearly six weeks he got to apply the massive power that he has in his extra-long stride.
Doubts remains about Bolt’s fitness – he himself rated it last week as no more than 90 per cent. He shrugged off his stumble: “I made a bad step. I stumbled a bit,” he said. “I'm glad it happened now.” Only when they are flat-out in the final will we discover whether Bolt at 90 per cent is good enough to beat his training partner, 2.50 shot Blake.
Yesterday’s racing was very much a phoney war before the real competition gets underway in the semi-finals tonight, so Ryan Bailey’s 9.88 – with a strong following wind – was probably as much for the benefit of his own confidence as a marker for his rivals. Bailey, the 23-year-old American, is on offer at 20.00.
To find the likely gold medal-winner from among the near 100 women who will run the Olympic Marathon on Sunday morning, a look at those who have experienced racing well on the red-paved streets seems like a good idea.
2.10 favourite Mary Keitany has a 2-1 race victory record over the 2011 world champion Edna Kiplagat, having beaten her in the last two London races. The third Kenyan, Priscah Jeptoo, was also left behind Keitany in London in April.
But there’s been some canny money put on the woman who finished runner-up to Keitany in London in April 2011 – Russia’s Liliya Shobukohova.
A classy former track runner, with European medals at 3,000 and 5,000 metres, 34-year-old Shobukohova has been laid up for the Olympic race since winning in Chicago last autumn in a national record 2:18:20. She is available at 6.00.
Ethiopia’s Tiki Gelana’s sub-2:19 run in Rotterdam in the spring marks her out as a possible medal-winner too. You can back her at 7.00.
Women's 400m hurdles
A lifetime best in a minor meeting two weeks ago suggests that 5.25 chance Natalya Antyukh could land the gold for Russia in another event - the 400 metres hurdles, which has its first round today.
Like Shobukohova, Antyukh has prepared single-mindedly for Olympic gold. The 2011 world bronze medal-winner set a world-leading 53.40sec – a PB by 1sec - to take the Russian title. Two weeks ago, in an obscure meeting, she clocked her best ever time for 200m, a great indicator of form for a quarter hurdler.
In an event where the world champion and 3.75 favourite Lashinda Demus has been less impressive in her recent races, the Russian looks the pick. Demus has beaten the Russian six times in seven meetings, and has world silvers from 2005 and 2009, but she lost badly at Monaco this season, and is nearly six-tenths slower on 2012 form than Antyukh.
On her home turf, Londoner Perri Shakes-Drayton could be in the mix for a medal. The former European under-23 champion stunned Davydova at the Crystal Palace Diamond League meet, clocking a lifetime best 53.77. Shakes-Drayton is 5.50 third favourite.