RIO DE JANEIRO: The history-chasing exploits of Usain Bolt will take centre-stage as the Olympic track and field competition begins today with the drug-tarnished sport seeking rebirth after a year of shame.
Ten days of competition in Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic Stadium get under way with officials keen to draw a line under a miserable 12 months which has left the athletics’ image languishing at an all-time low.
As ever, it will be left to track and field’s greatest showman, Bolt, to restore the feel-good factor as the sport attempts to turn the page on the Russian doping scandal and corruption allegations.
In his last Olympics, Jamaican star Bolt is gunning for 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay gold after sweeping the titles in 2008 and 2012.
The first leg of Bolt’s “Treble Treble” quest gets under way tomorrow, with the opening heats of the 100m before the final on Sunday.
“You grow up looking forward to this,” said Bolt. “Championships are what matters. This is what I do.”
Just as he was at the World Championships in Beijing, Bolt is likely to find himself cast as the good guy in a hero vs villain duel with long-time rival Justin Gatlin.
Bolt has the 9.58sec 100m world record, but Gatlin is the fastest man in the world this season over 100m and he continues to polarise opinion over his two doping bans.
The first of 47 gold medals will be decided today with the women’s 10,000m, where Ethiopia’s defending champion Tirunesh Dibaba will attempt to make Olympic history by becoming the first woman to win three consecutive times in an individual athletics event.
Sebastian Coe, the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, said he hoped fans watching track and field would cast aside cynicism, even if the “the last year has sorely tested all of us”.