Think fast: US sprinters still expect Bolt at Olympics

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Posted: Jul 02, 2016 7:31 PM
Think fast: US sprinters still expect Bolt at Olympics

EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — It's a sport built on speed, and at U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials on Saturday, sprinters wasted no time drawing conclusions about Usain Bolt's summertime itinerary.

The consensus: He'll be in Rio.

For the second straight day, the Jamaican sprinter's hamstring was Topic No. 1 in the track world. If Bolt is seriously hurt, the entire Olympics will take on a new perspective, whether it's Bolt at less-than-full strength or — still unthinkable at this point — absent altogether.

Not that anyone going through preliminary rounds in Eugene was worried about that.

"Crazy stuff always happens in an Olympic year," said Bolt's main challenger, Justin Gatlin, who cruised through his 100-meter preliminary in a time of 10.03 seconds. "Like anyone else, you have to see what's going to happen. But c'mon. We're going to see his face in Rio one way or another."

Gatlin, Tyson Gay, Mike Rodgers and Trayvon Bromell all advanced easily through the first round of the 100 on a sunny, 83-degree day that produced little in the way of top-line surprises.

Meanwhile, a continent away in Kingston, few clues emerged the day after Bolt, the 29-year-old world-record holder, pulled out of his national championships, posting a picture of himself on Twitter with electrical-stimulation pads stuck to his hamstring and the message: "Starting the recovery process right away."

What is known is that Jamaica's rules are much less restrictive than those in the United States, which allow the top three finishers in each event to qualify, with no exceptions for injuries or past performances.

Per Jamaica's rules, Bolt can earn his spot in the 100 and 200 if he can show he's fit enough; that judgment call has to be made by July 18, when Olympic rosters are due.

"I feel like it's a cop-out. He should run like anybody else," said Rodgers, the 2009 U.S. champion at 100 meters. "But at the end of the day, he's Bolt. He's the Olympic champ, he's the world champ. Until someone beats him, puts him in his place, he's going to do what he wants to do."

Indeed, there was more eye-rolling than genuine concern among the U.S. sprinters, who feel like they've seen this before.

In 2012, Bolt ran at Jamaica's nationals, but finished second to Yohan Blake in both the 100 and 200, not far removed from a minor car crash and dealing with some leg issues. Bolt was injured in the lead-up to world championships last year, but nonetheless edged Gatlin in the 100 and blew by him in the 200.

Now, this.

"It's a tradition," said Gay, who once was Bolt's main challenger.

Gatlin said years ago, he might have heard about an injury to Bolt "and thought I hit the lottery." What did the injury do to his thought process this time?

"Nothing," Gatlin said. "Being a veteran, you can't let that change you."

Gatlin didn't want to get sucked into a conversation of whether he'd like to see Bolt at his best when he gets to Brazil later in the summer. The Americans still have to get through two more rounds of the 100 on Sunday to secure their spot on the Olympic team.

It's a format they've long dealt with and accept, even if it adds some strain, coming only six weeks before the games begin.

"If I was Bolt in Jamaica, I'd probably pull out, too," said Shawn Crawford, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist at 200 meters, who now coaches American sprinter Jeneba Tarmoh. "I know my training isn't up to where I want it to be, so I'd let them race and I'll just go home and train. I know they're going to put me on the team. You can't do that here. If you could, I'm sure there'd be a lot of people who'd pull out."

Other headlines from Day 2 at Olympic Trials:

FELIX THROUGH: Allyson Felix again gritted her way through the 400-meter heats, finishing second to Francena McCorory in a time of 50.31. "It's not an ideal situation for me," Felix said of the injured right ankle that has hampered her preparation for the 200-400 double. "I'm happy to keep moving on."

BUSY DAY: World long-jump champion Tianna Bartoletta had a busier day than most. She was also entered in the women's 100 meters, and the events were scheduled simultaneously. She qualified for the Olympics in the long jump and moved easily through the first round of the 100. Bartoletta petitioned to have the schedule changed, but to no avail. "We changed the practices so I would go from the runway to the sprint, back to the runway," she said. "Even though the pressure of being at the Olympic trials was higher, my body was actually used to doing that."

HALFWAY HOME: World-record holder Ashton Eaton made it safely through the first five events of the decathlon. He has 4,561 points, which is not a record pace, but is an 83-point advantage over second-place Jeremy Taiwo. Olympic silver medalist Trey Hardee ran his 400 meters in 1 minute, 12.49 seconds, more than 36 seconds off the pace, to drop into 17th place. He's been dealing with a hamstring injury, on top of a foot injury, that had him on the couch for the 10 days before trials. He said he'd return for Sunday's events.

HUDDLE UP: Molly Huddle ran hard to the line to win the women's 10K by more than 4 seconds over Emily Infeld. Huddle finished in 31:41.62. Last year at world championships, Huddle slowed up and raised her hands to celebrate with about a step left, which allowed Infeld to shoulder past her for the bronze medal.

DISCUS QUALIFIERS: Whitney Ashley, Shelbi Vaughan and Kelsey Card all qualified for the Olympics in the discus throw. Ashley won the event with a throw of 204 feet, 2 inches.