USAIN Bolt was at Roland Garros yesterday in the same way that he turns up at an awful lot of big events these days. The most famous sporting face on the planet, feted and loved by all.
In between fulfilling commitments to sponsors and doing just enough training to keep himself ahead of the other fastest men on earth, it is his reward for carrying the global reputation of an entire sport on his not inconsiderable shoulders.
Except in Rome last week, Bolt was beaten. Not by much, and in a not very fast 100m at a Diamond League meeting in Rome. He was, by his own admission, slightly undercooked and assured his legions of fans that when the World Championships arrive in late summer he’ll be in top shape to take on all-comers.
To which all of us should say “'you’d better be” because the man who beat him in Rome and who is unbeaten so far this year is the Athens Olympic sprint champion Justin Gatlin. A man who failed his first drugs test more than a decade ago, and followed that up with a second offence that led to him being banned from the sport for four years.
The enormity of Bolt’s achievements in London last year mercifully led to Gatln’s bronze medal receiving barely a mention, but this year things might be different. Is the motivation really still there? Is being a super-celebrity not an easier lifestyle than doing those same hard yards on the track day-in-day-out? The hierarchy of the IAAF must be praying that their most prized asset rediscovers his mojo in time for Moscow.
The Championships this year are in a nation bedevilled by drugs accusations and convictions in recent months. A few nods and winks from those in-the-know will accompany every Russian success this summer.
But should Gatlin win the 100m, then for many, the game will be up for track and field. That’s why Usain, we all hope you had a top day in Paris yesterday, but please don’t ignore the day job.
Your sport is depending on you.