GOLD COAST, Australia (Reuters) – Sprinter Yohan Blake’s ambitions of stepping out of Usain Bolt’s shadow face a preliminary test on Sunday when the Commonwealth Games’ athletics get underway at Carrara Stadium.
Former world champion Blake has declared the Gold Coast event as a first step to restoring Jamaica’s primacy in the 100 and 200 meters following last year’s retirement of Bolt, the world record holder and eight-times Olympic gold medalist.
Blake has battled a number of injuries since his first and only 100m world title at Daegu in 2011, secured when team mate Bolt false-started.
However, the 28-year-old ran his fastest time (9.90 seconds) in five years in 2017 and came fourth at the London world championships in positive signs.
“I’m doing some good work in training and my confidence is coming back,” said Blake, who has a personal best of 9.69.
“I don’t have a Commonwealth medal. It’s very important for me to have one in my trophy case.”
Organizers may share the same sentiment, given the loss of the Games’ headline athlete Sally Pearson to injury and the withdrawal of a number of the world’s top athletes.
Home-town hero Pearson, the 100 meters hurdles world champion and face of the Games, was forced to pull out with a serious Achilles injury, announcing her decision the day after the opening ceremony in a major dampener to the Games.
Blake will have few bright lights to share the stage at Carrara Stadium, with Canada’s triple Olympic sprint medalist Andre De Grasse snubbing the event to focus on the outdoor season.
The Jamaican’s biggest threats may come from the South African duo of Henricho Bruintjies and Akani Simbini, a 100m finalist at the Rio Olympics, but Blake should sail into the final.
The women’s 100m preliminaries also kick off on Sunday but without Jamaica’s Olympic champion Elaine Thompson, who has elected to skip the distance to concentrate on the 200.
Glasgow’s 100 and 200m champion Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria will also dodge the individual sprints, leaving Trinidad and Tobago’s Michelle Lee-Ahye to battle Jamaicans Christiana Williams and Natasha Morrison for the 100 title.
Rising Ugandan talent Joshua Cheptegei, the world silver medalist in the 10,000 meters at London last year, will bid for his first Commonwealth medal in the 5,000 on Sunday before competing in the longer distance.
England’s Nick Miller will throw for gold in the hammer, hoping to go one better than his silver medal at Glasgow.
By Ian Ransom
(Editing by Sudipto Ganguly)