By Zaheer E. Clarke
Published July 10, 2017
Despite Usain Bolt’s swansong in London, the men’s 110m hurdles, the women’s 100m hurdles and the men’s 400m are the must-see events at the 2017 IAAF World Championships.
The 2017 IAAF World Championships in London is only 27 days away and the main draw card for the event is Usain Bolt’s final race at an international meet before his retirement. Any mentions of the impending breath-taking performances of other athletes by pundits and fans are all but a whisper.
The blue riband event of every World Championships or Summer Olympics is the 100m event, which crowns its newest winner as the “fastest man in the world”. Usain Bolt has had a throttlehold on this label ritualistically now for nine years, with the exception being his false start in Daegu at the 2011 World Championships.
Based on his performances two weeks ago in Ostrava, 10.06 seconds, and at the Racer’s Grand Prix last month, 10.03 seconds, it is clearly apparent that Bolt is currently not in any shape to defend his title. Nevertheless, in recent years we have grown accustomed to Bolt labouring and struggling to produce spellbinding times of yesteryears leading up to the big event – the Summer Olympics or the IAAF World Championships. However, when the light shines brightest, he and his coach Glen Mills, usually get Bolt to produce his best performance of the season, at the biggest stage.
Predictably, the events that have me hissing about a potential world and/or championship records, and are the blue riband events, for me, at this year’s World Championships are the men’s 400m and the men’s and women’s sprint hurdles, that is, the 110 m hurdles and 100m hurdles respectively.
With Bolt’s departure all but set, the world has been searching for the next athlete that will fill Bolt’s shoes, if only partially, in terms of dominance in a particular event(s).
On the female side, Elaine Thompson seems to be the heir apparent to Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce as the marquee female athlete over the 100m and the 200m. However, the world, Olympic and championship records in those events are some distance away. On the male side, many have suggested that Yohan Blake or Andre DeGrasse, running over the 100m and 200m, are the successors to Bolt’s throne in terms of dominance and captivation. However, other potential candidates to that throne include Wayde van Niekerk and Omar McLeod while on the female side Thompson might feel some pressure from Kendra Harrison, who is due to explode on the world scene.
As I had predicted last year – two months before the Olympics – van Niekerk shattered Michael Johnson’s 400m Olympic and World records. Unfortunately, I missed the trifecta, after van Niekerk failed to break 43 seconds by four hundredths of a second with a blistering 43.03 run from lane eight. This year, the expectations of van Niekerk are no different, if the conditions are ideal and the competition sufficient, he may be pushed to immortality. Undoubtedly, he should break the world record, championship record and 43 seconds in one quick swoop, if pushed. Unsurprisingly, van Niekerk broke Usain Bolt’s and Michael Johnson’s 300m two weeks in Ostrava and a week ago, he eased to 43.67 in Lausanne.
A non-spectacular run from the ageing former Olympic and world champion LaShawn Merritt coupled with the absence of former Olympic, World and Commonwealth champion Kirani James might be the Achilles heel to another ‘van the Man’ performance from van Niekerk. In addition, if van Niekerk contends both the 200m and the 400m for men, with the men’s 200m first round and the 400m finals scheduled for the same day, the last time I checked, then we might be robbed of another great Rio performance from van Niekerk.
‘Mr Smooth’ Omar McLeod light up Rio last year when he won the 110 metres hurdles event and this year, he has already set five of the top-7 seven times over the distance. After switching coaches this year, he has set his personal best and a national record of 12.90 seconds at the Jamaican National Championships. With the world record at 12.80, the championship record at 12.91 for over 24 years, McLeod has the raw speed and ability to break the world record, championship record or both. He currently sits on the fifth fastest time of all-time set this year.
Keni Harrison, disappointedly, failed to qualify for the Olympic Games last year after falling apart in the 100m hurdles final at the US trials, finishing sixth. Harrison had dominated the season up to that point, winning most, if not all, of her races. A few weeks after the sorrowful trials, she destroyed the 28-year-old world record with a run of 12.20 seconds at the London Olympic Stadium, the same host of this year’s World Championships.
Henceforth, even though Usain Bolt is the most exhilarating athlete we have seen in track and field, at this his final major international meet, the elation and goosebumps might be produced from performances from Wayde van Niekerk, Omar McLeod or Keni Harrison, or all. Once again, track and field’s Nostradamus has looked into his crystal ball and these are the scary and delightful premonitions he saw.
Until next time…
© Zaheer Clarke
Zaheer E. Clarke is a multi-award-winning freelance sportswriter. The last time he tried to run the 110m hurdles, it took him a super-fast 43 seconds to complete. Omar McLeod or Kendra Harrison would have finished the same race and would be having a drink by the concession stand by then.
This blog article was published in the Western Mirror on July 10, 2017.