The world’s fastest man races for the first time in almost six weeks over 100 metres at the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games at London’s Olympic Stadium tonight.
The Jamaican has been hampered by a pelvic injury this summer and the race is likely to prove a very good indication of what sort of shape he will be in for the global showpiece.
He is 62nd in the world rankings in the 100m with a best of 10.12 seconds, set in April in what was little more than an early-season race designed to blow away the cobwebs.
Two-time drug cheat Justin Gatlin, in contrast, has run under 9.8secs four times this year, extending his unbeaten run to 23 races and establishing himself as the strong favourite for the world title.
Bolt’s 2015 200m best of 20.13s is also pedestrian by his standards, while Gatlin has the four fastest times of the year and tops the world list with 19.57.
But the six-time Olympic champion banished any suggestion of only doing one event in Beijing and added: “If my coach [Glen Mills] isn’t worried, I’m never worried, he’s confident that I can be ready.
“I’m confident, I’ve been doing good in training. I’m not worried about times.”
The prospect of unrepentant two-time doper Gatlin winning the blue-riband event in Beijing – or even completing a sprint double – is one which many within the sport find hard to stomach.
At the age of 33 he is running faster than ever, with a new personal best of 9.74 set in May.
Gatlin is not in London – given his past he did not receive an invitation – but Bolt reckons he can come out on top when they do clash in Beijing. “I never doubt myself,” he said. “I look forward to competition. Beijing is a month away, I am not really worried about that, I try and take it a step at a time.
“I’ve been training really hard, I’ve been pushing myself. It’s all execution now, if I can execute right, get everything right, then I know I’ll run fast.”
Should Bolt fail to recover his best form, there remains the real prospect of the gold, silver and bronze medals in the 100m going to athletes who have served drug bans.
Gatlin’s American team-mate Tyson Gay, who was banned after testing positive for an anabolic steroid, is back running under 9.9, while Bolt’s compatriot Asafa Powell, who served a suspension following a positive test for a banned stimulant, is ranked second in the world this year with 9.81.
And Bolt admits he gets angry that the actions of a minority put the whole sport under a cloud.
He said: “Yes, definitely, especially throughout the years when you work hard and the sport’s getting back a good reputation and then it slides back when other athletes decide they want to do the wrong thing.
“It does upset me, because then everybody starts pointing fingers again and starts speculating. It doesn’t help the sport in any way, at times I do get frustrated and angry.”
But asked if a win for Gatlin in Beijing would be bad news for the sport, he laughed and said: “I’m not planning to lose so I can’t really answer that question.” Gay remains the athlete with whom Bolt has the biggest gripe. “I competed with Tyson throughout the years,” he said. “I had so much respect for him as a competitor, I looked at him as one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever competed against.
“He was dedicated, he worked hard. That’s one of the ones that really hurt me. It really hurts as an athlete to know that the person you really look up to is banned for drugs.
“Justin Gatlin was before my time. I’m not saying it’s right, but it happened when I was just coming into the sport.”
And Bolt also reckons Gatlin, who returned from his second doping ban in 2010 and has at times appeared to revel in his portrayal as the villain of sprinting, has learned to be more complimentary of the world record holder.
“The one thing you learn, saying bad things about me doesn’t help the situation,” said the Jamaican.
“I think somebody’s talked to him and said, ‘Listen, stop saying bad things about Usain, start saying nice things and maybe he wont be angry, he won’t work hard’. But it’s too late.”