The Jamaican 100 and 200m champion will put his famous "who faster?" taunt to the test again at the world championships.
Usain Bolt is confident of a hat-trick of golds in Daegu
DAEGU, SOUTH KOREA // Usain Bolt will put his famous "who faster?" taunt to the test again at the world championships.
So far, it has worked every time it has mattered most.
Ever since his stunning world records and gold medals in the 100 and 200 metres at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and his repeat at the 2009 Berlin world championships, the Jamaican sprinter has become a global sports superstar.
So when the championships open on Saturday, most of the attention will focus on Bolt. Not that he minds. As usual, he is already making light of the pressure and expectations.
"I am always confident. I am unbeaten this year and aim to defend all my titles in Daegu," Bolt told the Associated Press in an email.
On top of his individual gold medals, he also helped Jamaica win titles in the sprint relays at Beijing and Berlin.
Anything less than three more gold medals in South Korea, to add to the six from Beijing and Berlin, would be a disappointment for Bolt ahead of the 2012 London Olympics.
Yet he needs another overpowering show at the 53,000-capacity Daegu Stadium, because his statistics over the past two years have not completely matched his braggadocio.
When it comes to "who faster?" in the 100m in 2011, Bolt is not on top of the list. He is not even the top Jamaican. His compatriot Asafa Powell holds the leading time of 9.78 seconds, with Bolt posting the sixth-fastest time of 9.86 - way off his world record of 9.58.
He is not worried, though, having been in similar positions before.
Two years ago, Tyson Gay was fastest ahead of the world championships but when it came to the biggest matchup of the competition, Bolt blew everyone away with a world record.
"I think it will be the same as Berlin. Some people ran well in the early season, but it is the championships that count," Bolt said. "We always train to peak at the major championships. My coach sets out the programme with this as the goal."
Gay had been hampered by a sore groin in Berlin, and injury caught up with him even before the championships this year. The American pulled out of the 100 metres at the US nationals in June because of a hip injury.
Bolt was troubled by a bad back last year, and even if his times have been less than exceptional since, he says it no longer bothers him.
"The back injury was last year. I haven't had any problems with it this year," he said.
Just don't count on world records this year.
Powell is expected to be the main challenger to Bolt, but the former world record holder has been prone to pressure of the big events. Bolt said there is no underestimating Powell this year.
"Asafa has always been a good athlete. He has been running fast for many years and deserves a lot of respect for his achievements," he said.
Bolt's domination in the 200m one year after coming off his injury is far less contested, with a world-leading time this year of 19.86, also still far off his world record of 19.19. In the 200m, his closest challenger is also Jamaican, the 21-year-old Nickel Ashmeade.
It also highlights another theme of the championships - the Jamaican sprint domination over the Americans.
With Gay out, and Michael Rodgers accepting a provisional doping suspension after testing positive for a banned stimulant he said he ingested by accident, the duel looks lopsided again coming into the championships.
If anything, the depth of the Jamaican teams looks even better than years past, said Bolt.
"This year, Jamaica will still have a very strong team," he said. "So it will be even harder for everyone else."