THE BLUE riband event of the athletics programme may have been missing its biggest star – and the biggest name in the world of athletics – but the 100 metres still retained its capacity to thrill and amaze as Kemar Bailey-Cole of Jamaica blazed to victory in the men’s race ahead of England’s Adam Gemili, while Blessing Okagbare won the women’s, in a Commonwealth record of 10.85, ahead of two Jamaicans, Veronica Campbell-Brown and Kerron Stewart.
At 22, Bailey-Cole, who trains with Usain Bolt under coach Glen Mills, is one of the many rising stars of Jamaican sprinting, with the pre-race favourite Nickel Ashmeade only managing third. But it felt like a coming of age for the permanently-smiling Gemili, the 20-year-old former world junior champion, who narrowly missed out on making the Olympic final in London. Gemili was a real crowd favourite, and he seemed to respond to the rapturous cheers, winning his semi-final in 10.07.
It was almost 10pm when the men’s race got underway, yet the sky was still glowing, illuminating the clouds over Hampden, and some of the warmth of the day remained. Bailey-Cole and Gemili lined up side-by-side as the two fastest qualifiers, and they were neck and neck for much of the race. Then the taller Bailey-Cole began to pull ahead, crossing the line in 10.00, as the punchier and more compact Gemili just held off the late challenge of Ashmeade.
Of the two 100m finals it was the women’s that had the real A-list star quality, the semi-finals setting up a humdinger of a duel between Campbell-Brown of Jamaica and Nigeria’s Okagbare. A contrast in styles, too, with Campbell-Brown an elegant, graceful sprinter, while Okagbare is tall and powerful.
Campbell-Brown’s list of major honours is longer than many country’s, the 32-year-old having amassed 25 medals in Olympics – in which she has three golds – world championships and Commonwealth Games, including three silvers at the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002. The one missing was gold.
She has also been under a cloud for much of the last year, since a positive test for a diuretic was announced last June. She was suspended from competition but then cleared to return in February when the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled that the Jamaican anti-doping agency had made numerous errors in collecting and storing her urine sample.
Okagbare, seven years Campbell-Brown’s junior, is one of the stars of women’s sprinting, though she has combined it with jumping, winning silver medals in this discipline at the 2008 Olympics and 2013 world championsips in Moscow. She was a promising football player as a teenager before switching to athletics in 2004, aged 14, initially as a triple jumper.
It was Okagbare whom Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the double 100m Olympic champion, said she most feared at the start of this year. Although Fraser-Pryce is missing, she might have had her work cut out to beat the Nigerian in Hampden.
Okagbare and Campbell-Brown lined up in adjacent lanes and both made a strong start, but Okagbare powered ahead. Campbell-Brown stretched and strained to remain in contact but it was a comfortable win for Okagbare, with Campbell-Brown holding on for second in 11.03, well down on the 10.76 personal best she established in 2011. Gold is still the colour missing from her Commonwealth Games medals collection.
Bolt was the missing star – though he was spotted training at the warm-up track during the day – because he didn’t want to take the place of any of the sprinters who had rightfully qualified through the national trials, which he missed with injury.
As much as Bolt’s absence may have disappointed the crowd – although to be fair, if there was disappointment, it didn’t show – it seemed just. And fair, given that all three Jamaicans sailed through into the final.
Well, sailed is maybe an exaggeration in the case of Ashmeade, who earlier this month won the Diamond League here at Hampden. Ashmeade had a shocker of a start in his semi-final, trailing last before recovering to finish second but in a modest 10.21. Richard Thompson, one of the favourites from Trinidad and Tobago, the 100m silver medallist behind Bolt at the Beijing Olympics, went a little quicker than Ashmeade but didn’t qualify automatically and was out.
England’s world 60m indoor champion, Richard Kilty, was another who didn’t make the final. Kilty was never in it, running 10.27 after admitting he was “sluggish” and “lacklustre” in the morning’s heats. After his exit he tweeted: “Sorry I didn’t get it done today everyone, I gave it my all & wasn’t good enough today...it’s been a tough few months but I will be back.”
There was also disappointment for Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, who was fourth in his semi-final in 10.25, which wasn’t good enough for a final that featured all three Jamaicans, with Ashmeade marooned in lane eight after his poor semi-final.
As well as Bailey-Cole and Okagbare, the other star of the night was the crowd. Much of the credit for that belongs to Hampden itself, a revelation as an athletics venue, with the running track so close that those in the front row can almost reach forward and touch the runner in lane eight.
It is an intimate cauldron to rival some of the world’s best athletics arenas. When Bolt does finally appear, for Friday’s qualifying heats in the 4x100m relay, the roof will be raised.