The track and field events at the Rio Olympics kick off later on Friday, but the event the world is eagerly anticipating will take place only the next day. Usain Bolt will test his hamstring and form as he runs in the 100m heats on Saturday.
The Jamaican sprinting phenomenon is aiming to achieve an incredible triple treble by retaining his 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay gold won in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and retained in London four years later.
The Rio Games organisers stumbled from one crisis to another in the build-up and are still grappling with many issues. While law and order is in the periphery, doping is in the heart of their woes with more than half the Games still left.
Another major embarrassment has been empty seats. This is where the man who draws lightning in the air as his victory signal comes as a ray of hope. For all the negative publicity for Brazil, Rio heaved a sigh of relief as swimmer Michael Phelps, the greatest Olympian, came out of retirement to put on a show in his fifth Games.
And a successful show by Bolt, who takes part in his fourth Olympics, will ensure the Games is a success.
Bolt, 29, has dominated world sprinting like no one before him. At Athens 2004, his first Olympics, Bolt was a flop as a hamstring injury saw him eliminated in the 200m heats. Then began the tie-up with Kingston-based track coach Glen Mills, and his rise to stardom.
The work put together was for all to see in Beijing, 2008. Bolt set a 100m world record of 9.72sec before heading to the Olympics.
In Beijing, he broke the world marks in both events, winning the 100m in 9.69sec and then clocking 19.30sec in winning the 200m, bettering Michael Johnson’s record of 19.32. He also helped break the 4x100m world record for good measure.
China, then mourning the injury to defending 110m champion, Liu Xiang, took to Bolt’s stunning races as well as clowning before and after them. Bolt became the first to hold both world records since electronic timings were introduced.
Next year, at the Berlin world championships, Bolt was in sizzling form, breaking the world records while winning the 100m and 200m in 9.58 seconds and 19.19 respectively. But he was disqualified for a false start at the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Africa.
As in the build-up to the Rio Olympics, the tall Jamaican suffered a hamstring injury which raised serious doubts whether he would be able to defend his titles.
However, treatment under his German doctor and further build-up were effective as he won all three gold medals. He broke the Olympic record in the 100m, which he won in 9.63sec. He then won the 200m in 19.32 seconds before claiming the shorter relay.
If Bolt left his US rival Tyson Gay in his wake at the Beijing Games and in the Berlin worlds, Justin Gatlin was back as his chief opponent in London. But Gatlin, the 100m winner at Athens 2004 who was twice suspended for doping, could only win silver.
Gatlin will lead the American challenge, but there is no doubt who the crowd will root for. And Bolt, who turns 30 on August 21, the closing ceremony day, knows millions will look up to him to salvage a meet sullied by the ban of Russian athletes over state-sponsored doping and reports of widespread use of banned substances in Kenya, another athletics powerhouse.
The dark winds were already swirling when Beijing staged the 2015 world championships, and it was Bolt’s double that lifted the meeting. And Bolt himself has faced questions why he is reluctant to raise a more louder voice against doping.
Concerns over Bolt’s fitness have melted after he clocked 19.89 while winning the 200m in London in July, although he has run only one race over the distance this year. He has run a few 100m races, although his year’s best of 9.88sec is modest by his standards.
Besides Gatlin, US sprinter Trayvon Brommel and Jimmy Vicaut (France) have all run the 100m faster this season. All this should make the sprints highly exciting.