Yohan Blake: Emerging from the shadows
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A question comes from the media scrum: “Have you ever beaten Usain Bolt in the nationals?” Yohan Blake smiles before saying, “I won’t say. I won’t say.”
Through all his career, the 29-year-old Jamaican has lived in the shadow of the world record holder and eight-time Olympic gold medallist Bolt. The only times Blake has managed to win the yellow metal at the Olympics has been when he shared the podium with the world’s fastest man, in the 4x100m relay races at the 2012 London and 2016 Rio Games. But that’s not to say Blake is an insignificant name in the world of athletics.
With a personal best of 9.69 seconds and 19.26 seconds in the 100m and 200m respectively, Blake is the second-fastest sprinter in history – behind Bolt’s mark of 9.58 seconds (100m) and 19.19 seconds (200m). And now that ‘Lightning Bolt’ has hung his spikes, Blake is looking to make his move up the podium at the Olympics next year.
“I’m always the favourite, I’m the second-fastest man in the universe,” he said at a promotional event in Mumbai on Monday. “Everyone has to look up to me. This is going to be my last Olympics, so I’m definitely going for the gold. I have got many medals in the past, but this will put the icing on the cake for me at the Tokyo Olympics.”
The Jamaican sprinter, whom Bolt dubbed ‘The Beast,’ had first announced his name at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, when he surprised the field and raced to gold. That made him the youngest ever sprinter till date — at 21 years and 245 days — to win a 100m gold at the World Championships. On that occasion though, Bolt, the favourite, was disqualified because of a false start. It’s an achievement that will always have an asterisk beside it. But Blake doesn’t care.
“If you take Usain out of the picture, I’d be the fastest man. I feel I was born in the wrong time,” he says lightly. “Nevertheless, I’m still proud with what I have achieved. It was Usain’s time and I was competing against a giant.”
Blake was at hand when his senior compatriot set an Olympic record in the 100m at London 2012. And he was also there when Bolt stumbled past the finish line, in last place, in his last competitive race, at the 2017 World Championships.
“He was hardly training (in the run-up to the event). He was partying a lot instead. He didn’t feel the urge as it was his last race. He said he was just going to have fun, he just wanted a medal. Everyone wants to win, but he just wanted a medal,” recalls Blake. “On the day of the race, he said he was feeling his hamstring. When I came around the corner to give him the baton, I knew he was not going to make it. I thought, ‘what about my medal?’ “But he had done so much for Jamaica, for the world, and I forgive him that once. But it was a bad end to his career.”
Now Blake’s looking forward to his own swansong at what will be his third Olympics. He reckons that his body is “firing” and that everyday he’s “hungry and running with purpose.”
But in the longer run, for athletics, he’s critical of the changes the world body – The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF), now called World Athletics – has been making to international events. In the coming season, the 15 Diamond League meets will no longer have the 200m sprint, discus throw, triple jump and 3000m steeplechase.
“If he (IAAF president Sebastian Coe) can take away the 200 and triple jump, I don’t know if he is trying to build athletics or trying to kill it. But that’s a stupid move he is making. He must enhance the sports, but he is killing it,” he says. “This is people’s career and where they make money. For Coe to be doing that, everybody is hating him. It’s madness.” But whatever comes of the alterations with the Diamond League, Blake remains unfazed in his goal. Gold. At the Olympics. On his own terms.