Usain Bolt has been saddened by the doping crisis engulfing athletics – but warned he could not save the scandal-hit sport by himself.
The Jamaican’s 100 metres showdown with two-time drug cheat Justin Gatlin is the most eagerly-anticipated contest of the World Championships, which get under way in Beijing tomorrow.
It’s sad that doping is at the forefront of a World ChampionshipsUsain Bolt
The head-to-head clash has been portrayed as a battle between saviour and villain and athletics could scarcely need its leading man more than it does right now.
Bolt’s return to the scene of his first Olympic success seven years ago, coincides with allegations of widespread doping and cover-ups, which have plunged the sport’s credibility into question and forced world governing body the International Association of Athletics Federations to come out fighting.
The six-time Olympic champion, who turns 29 today, said: “It’s really taking centre stage, all I’ve been hearing over the past couple of weeks is doping, doping, doping, the majority of the questions are about doping.
“It’s sad it’s at the forefront of a World Championships and not the competition that’s coming up ahead.”
Bolt, who will also go up against Gatlin over 200m, trails his American rival in the world rankings, but dispelled any fears about his fitness following a pelvic injury by twice running 9.87 seconds in London last month.
Gatlin leads the world list with 9.74secs, but Bolt has faith his hard training and ability to thrive on the big stage will tell when it matters.
“My coach [Glen Mills] is happy, that’s the key thing,” he said. “When he’s happy I always know I’m in good nick. I’m good to go.
“I’m at my best, that’s all I can say. I’m in great form, I’m happy with where I’m at. My start has come together at the right time.”
Bolt certainly has happy memories of the Chinese capital, having broken the 100m and 200m world records at the Bird’s Nest stadium in 2008, at a time when Gatlin, his predecessor as Olympic 100m champion, was in the middle of a four-year doping ban and a world away from returning to the pinnacle of the sport.
This season, though, 33-year-old Gatlin has been running faster than ever, with personal bests over 100m and 200m. He has the world’s top four times in the 100m rankings and top two in the 200m list.
Instead, it is Bolt around whom doubts have been swirling, given his lack of races.
Not that the defending champion, a contender for the most relaxed man in sport as well as the quickest, is bothered. He has grown accustomed to critics claiming his time is up.
“As soon as I get an injury people start questioning if I can come back,” he said.
“It’s just one of those things – Usain Bolt is injured, Usain Bolt won’t come back, Usain Bolt will be beaten. It’s headlines. I don’t try to worry about what the media is saying.”
This time, though, the need for a Bolt win seems even greater than normal, given the state that athletics finds itself in. The prospect of Gatlin gold in the championships’ blue-riband event is one many within the sport will find difficult to stomach.
But the world record holder knows he has no choice but to run against him.
“The rules are there and the rules are there for a reason,” added Bolt, who said he had no problem with athletes like Mo Farah releasing their blood data.
“If the rules say [Gatlin] can get banned and he can get back in the sport, I can’t really do anything about it. That’s not my call.
“He’s still going to line up and I still have to compete against him.
“People say I need to win for my sport. There are a lot of other athletes out here running clean and that have run clean throughout their career.
“It’s not only on me because I can’t do it by myself.
“It’s the responsibility of all the athletes to help to save the sport, to show the sport can go forwards.”
But the fact is Bolt is its global superstar.
No other athlete packs out press conferences quite like the Jamaican, no other commands not one, but two, promotional videos before he takes to the stage.
His sport now needs him to, once again, justify the hype.