The best track and field athletes on the planet are set to light up Rio today with Usain Bolt among the starts aiming to make history. The anticipation will build in expectation of seeing Bolt defend his 100 metre crown in the blue riband event of the Games at the Olympic Stadium.
Charismatic showman, Bolt, won 100m, 200m and 4x100m gold at the last two Olympics and is confident he can complete an unprecedented triple-triple in Brazil.
The legendary Jamaican vowed this will be his last Olympics and warned his rivals that he is ready to shatter the 200m world record, as well as winning the 100m and taking relay gold yet again.
Bolt, who insisted he is fully fit after recovering from a hamstring injury, will become the third athlete to win nine Olympic athletics gold medals if he pulls off another treble, a tally only the great Carl Lewis and Paavo Nurmi can boast.
Justin Gatlin has clocked the fastest time of the year – 9.80 seconds – but it would be a surprise if Bolt fails to outpace the American in his Olympic swansong.
As ever, it will be left to track and field’s greatest showman, Bolt, to restore the feel-good factor as the sport attempts to turn the page on the Russian doping scandal and corruption allegations.
In his last Olympics, Jamaican star Bolt is gunning for 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay gold after sweeping the titles in 2008 and 2012. The first leg of Bolt’s “Treble Treble” quest gets under way on today, with the opening heats of the 100m before the final on Sunday.
“As a young kid you grow up looking forward to the big games,” said Bolt. “Championships are what matters. This is what I do.”
Just as he was at the World Championships in Beijing, Bolt is likely to find himself cast as the good guy in a hero vs. villain duel with long-time rival Justin Gatlin.
Bolt has the 9.58sec 100m world record, but Gatlin is the fastest man in the world this season over 100m and he continues to polarise opinion over his two doping bans.
At an Olympics which has seen ugly spats in the swimming pool involving athletes with drug-tainted records, it is a safe bet that Gatlin will once again find his past under scrutiny.
Sebastian Coe, the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), says he hopes Gatlin will be treated politely by fellow competitors.
“I can’t change my view on Gatlin but he’s eligible to compete and he should be accorded the same courtesy as any athlete who is within these rules is accorded,” said Coe, who last year said the thought of Gatlin winning the 100m in Beijing made him “queasy”.
Coe said he hoped fans watching track and field would cast aside cynicism, even if the “the last year has sorely tested all of us.”
“I genuinely hope that those people that are watching our sport are watching with hope and they’re watching with excitement and they’re watching with belief,” Coe said.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce can also go down in the record books for Jamaica by winning today’s women’s 100m final to become the first female athlete to win the shortest sprint race three times in a row at the Olympics.
Allyson Felix failed to qualify for the 200m, but will compete over a full lap of the track and the United States sprint sensation needs just one gold to become the first woman to win five in athletics.
Felix is set to face stern competition from Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas, who clocked the fastest time this year of 49.55 seconds, in a potential 400m showdown on Monday.
World record holder Ashton Eaton can be expected to defend his decathlon crown, while Mo Farah is targeting another 5000m and 10,000m final double after raising the roof by leaving his rivals trailing in his wake on home soil in London.
Eliud Kipchoge is another man on a mission, striving to add a marathon medal to the 5000m silver he won at Beijing 2008 and bronze over the same distance four years earlier in Athens.
Athletics’ reputation has taken a battering in recent times, but some of the most impressive sportspeople in the world are ready to show the sport at its best over 10 days of competition.