Usain Bolt may be free of the fitness issues that saw him fly to Germany earlier this month to consult a sports doctor, but that does not mean his pre-Olympic worries are at an end, according to Darren Campbell.
The former Great Britain sprinter, who won a gold medal in the 4x100 metres sprint at the Athens Games eight years ago, has watched the progress of the great Jamaican with admiration and awe. But he believes that last year’s world championships in Daegu, in which Bolt was disqualified from the 100 metres because of a false start, are an indication that even the world record-holder can feel – and on occasion succumb to – the pressure.
That race in South Korea was seen by some as merely proof that Bolt, like everyone else, is fallible. Campbell, however, regards it as a sign of how concerned Bolt is by his compatriot and training partner Yohan Blake, the man who took the gold medal that night – and who beat him in the recent Jamaican trials.
“Bolt is worried when it comes to competing against Blake,” says Campbell, who retired from athletics in 2006, shortly after winning relay gold in the European Championships. “I got the impression that Daegu was not just a one-off mistake – he was worried about his training partner.
“You practise starting three, four, five times a week, so it’s not as if mistakes are just something that happens from time to time. In Daegu he felt he had to get a good start to help him hold off the challenge from Blake.”
Bolt also false-started in the semi-finals at the previous world championships, in Berlin in 2009. But that was when a first offence only received a warning, not a disqualification. Allowed to carry on, he won the semi, then went on to take the final in a world-record 9.58 seconds.
Achievements such as that time still massively outweigh any weaknesses the 25-year-old has, and Campbell is convinced that Bolt is essentially beatable only by himself. If he lets any worries get to him, the others have a chance. If not, he will have a fourth Olympic gold to add to his treble from Beijing, and will also have set himself up well for the defence of his other titles, in the 200m and the 4x100.
“I’ve heard that Bolt and Blake have not been training together. And he does make a lot of comments about his start, which to me means he is slightly worried about it.
“But if Bolt gets any issues like that out of his head he’ll win all day long. And if everything goes right he could even run close to 9.4, as he predicts he will.
“In fact, I think London could be one of the best 100m races ever. There are five men in the field capable of running under 9.8 – Bolt, Blake, Asafa Powell, Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin.”
Pinned down and asked to say which of those five will claim the three medals, Campbell says he thinks one of the two Americans will prevent a clean sweep for Jamaica. “If everyone turns up on the start line injury-free, I would say it will be 1 Bolt, 2 Blake, and 3 a toss-up between Gatlin and Gay.”
As a former sprinter, Campbell will look forward to that 100m showdown more keenly than any other event, but at heart the 38-year-old simply cherishes everything about the Olympics, having learned to venerate the event from an early age. “For someone like me it’s very emotional, the Olympics. I started athletics at the age of eight, then I watched Carl Lewis win four gold medals at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles and I just got caught up in the whole Olympic dream.”
He realised that dream as well, by winning in Athens in a quartet that also featured Jason Gardener, Marlon Devonish and Mark Lewis-Francis. In London, he hopes to see as many fellow-Britons as possible achieve similar success, but is especially hopeful for Jessica Ennis in the heptathlon and Phillips Idowu in the triple jump.
“I’d love to see Jess win – specially after she missed out on Beijing because of injury, it would be amazing. And Phillips, because I was in Beijing and I remember after he got the silver medal he was so down.
“And I told him: ‘If I said to you it would be silver here and gold in London, would you settle for that?’. He said yes. So let’s hope it happens.”
• Darren Campbell is an Olympic ambassador for ESPN Classic, which has been showing a series of programmes dedicated to the greatest stories, moments and achievements in Olympic history. The shows run every day between 8pm and 10pm until Thursday 26 July. www.espnclassic.com