With ‘giant’ Usain Bolt gone, heir-apparent Yohan Blake relishing opportunity to sprint into greatness

  • Yohan Blake says the success of Usain Bolt actually made him turn down a sports scholarship from a US university.

  • At the 2011 World Championships, Blake won the 100m gold but only after Bolt had been disqualified for a false start.

  • Yohan Blake admits that the absence of his Jamaican compatriot Usain Bolt does put pressure on him for Tokyo 2020.

In February next year, with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics hurtling closer like an asteroid, don't be surprised to see the hulking figure of Yohan Blake tearing in to bowl in cricket games in India. No, he's not switching careers. He's just paying obeisance to the sport he dreamed of making it big in as a child growing up in Jamaica.

 With ‘giant’ Usain Bolt gone, heir-apparent Yohan Blake relishing opportunity to sprint into greatness

Yohan Blake at a promotional event in Mumbai on Monday

“I’m looking forward to playing at least two cricket games in India before I go off to the Olympics in Tokyo,” says Blake, who is in India to promote the Road Safety World Series, a T20 cricket event to be played between legends of India, Australia, South Africa, West Indies and Sri Lanka in February next year.

While former cricket legends like Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Jonty Rhodes, Muttiah Muralitharan, Brett Lee and Virender Sehwag are among the 110 cricketers to have committed to playing in the tournament — created to raise awareness about road safety — Blake has been brought on board as the ‘Road Safety Champion’ of the West Indies Legends team.

That status, however, will not mean he will stick to cheering from the dugout. Cricket after all was his first love growing up.

“I’m sad that I didn’t get to play cricket professionally at a young age. But to be the fastest man in the world currently and the second fastest man in the universe ever, that’s something you can’t…it’s not easy. Cricket is basically all about form and batting. But running is all about speed, genetics… and speed,” Blake tells Firstpost.

It’s probably fitting that Blake mentions speed twice. After all, just one athlete in the world has ever gone faster than the Jamaican’s top speed of 9.69 secs over the 100m distance.

Unfortunately for Blake, that man, Usain Bolt, just happened to run in the same era as him.

“If you take Usain out of the picture, I’d be the fastest man,” Blake tells journalists at a press conference later in the day in a fit of fantasy followed by a bout of candour. “I feel like I was born at the wrong time. Nevertheless, I still proud with what I have achieved. It was Usain’s time. I was competing against a giant. When I beat him in Kingston (at the Jamaican Olympic trials), I had worked day and night. I should have won at the London Olympics too, but there were things going on behind the scenes which I won’t talk about.”

While Blake refuses to discuss the London 2012 race further, he has no qualms talking about Bolt, the man who was his nemesis on the track, but also someone he looked up to.

“When you’re training with someone who’s as fast as you, it can push you. We were pushing each other day after day. When I competed, I was afraid of no one because I was already training with the best in the world,” Blake tells Firstpost before pointing out how Bolt’s success actually made him turn down a sports scholarship from a US university.

“A US school had approached me with an offer to race overseas. But I wanted to stay in Jamaica. I didn’t want to leave my family. I saw how Usain was still in Jamaica and he was running really fast. I thought to myself, ‘if Usain can stay in Jamaica and run fast, why can’t I?’ So that’s what I did.”

Over the years, no matter how fast he ran, the man in the adjoining lane always ran faster.

It would be impossible to talk about Blake without mentioning Bolt. At the 2011 World Championships, Blake won the 100m gold — a feat he has never since repeated at the Worlds or the Olympics — but only after his more accomplished compatriot had been disqualified for a false start.

Blake was also at hand when Bolt’s career ended with a whimper at the London World Championships in 2017, where Bolt finished dead last in the 4x100m relay.

“When I came around the corner to give him the baton, I knew he was not going to make it. I could see him grab his leg, I thought to myself, ‘hey! What about my medal!’ But he had done so much for Jamaica, and for the world. So I forgave him for once. I was very emotional at that time… for the world and for Jamaica to end your career on such a bad note.

“In 2017, Bolt was hardly training, he was just partying a lot. He just didn’t feel the urge as it was his last race,” reveals Blake.

He also says that in the absence of Bolt, it feels like track and field is dying a little.

“With him gone, athletics has changed a lot, I am not going to lie. The times we are running have slowed down, track and field is dying a little,” he says.

For all intents and purposes, Blake has lived in Bolt’s shadow. But no more. With Bolt having hung up his running spikes, Blake has the opportunity to come into his own and become the face of track and field.

It’s not an opportunity he has seized so far, as the bronze medal finish at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games last year tell you. He stumbled off the starting blocks at Gold Coast leading him to finish third behind South Africa’s Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies. In the aftermath, Bolt told journalists that he would make it a point to poke fun at his compatriot for the wobble at the start.

“Yeah, we had a laugh about it. I got my start wrong, my foot stumbled a bit. It’s part of 100m. There’s no room for mistakes,” says Blake.

With Bolt gone though, Blake sees an opportunity to finally carve out his place in history at Tokyo 2020, which he says will be his last Olympics.

“His absence does put pressure on me for Tokyo Olympics. I’m the second fastest man ever. So there are a lot of people who look up to me. Everyone in Jamaica is looking to me to take up the mantle. It’s not easy, because I have gone through some injuries myself. At Tokyo Olympics, I’m trying to take over from where he left off and win an Olympic gold,” he tells Firstpost.

Unsurprisingly, at the press conference, he’s asked if he considers himself the favourite at Tokyo Olympics now that Bolt has retired.

“I’m always the favourite, the second fastest man in the universe. Everyone has to look up to me now.”

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Updated Date: Dec 03, 2019 10:59:37 IST