NEW YORK: Suddenly the 100m field for Saturday’s Diamond League meeting is wide open, thanks to the injury withdrawals of Jamaican star Usain Bolt and American Tyson Gay.
With both Bolt and Gay nursing apparently minor injuries, 2008 Olympic silver medallist Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago, Antigua’s Daniel Bailey, and rising young Jamaican Yohan Blake head the field for the 100m at Icahn Stadium.
Maurice Greene, the 2000 Olympic champion and three-time world champion at 100m, said it’s too bad the highly anticipated Bolt-Gay showdown won’t happen this time.
“Rivalries are great for track and field,” Greene said. “They bring out the best in athletes. When the best athletes compete against each other, you never know what’s going to happen. On any given day, anybody can win.”
For months, the meeting - the fifth in the elite 14-meeting Diamond League series - had been crafted around the Bolt-Gay sprint rivalry.
Bolt, who dominated the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and the 2009 Berlin World Championships, lowering world records to 9.58 (100 meters) and 19.19 (200 meters) in the process, was meant to be returning to the track where he first broke the 100m world mark.
He withdrew 10 days ago with a tender Achilles tendon, while Gay confirmed this week that he would not compete.
Both are hoping that by taking precautions now they will be at full strength later in the season.
Gay said Thursday that he suffered a slight leg strain while running an exhibition event, the 200-meter street sprint through downtown Manchester, England.
He ran the fastest 200-meter straightaway time ever recorded, 19.41 seconds, but paid the price.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” Gay said at a press conference Thursday. "Something freaky something weird happened in that race. Maybe I was running too fast for my body to handle it.
“Why it happened, I don’t know,” said Gay, although he has said he believes a misaligned disk in his back may have contributed.
Gay was asked if he thought ticket-holder for the sold-out event deserved a refund.
“Not really,” he said. "Usain went out and now I’m out, but there’s still plenty of talent left. It’s still going to be a great meet.
"Neither of us, Usain or me, wants to run unless we’re 100 percent.
“But when we are, it’s going to be something very special.”
Jamaican Asafa Powell’s 9.82 victory in Rome on Thursday was the fastest in the world this year. Thompson, Bailey and Blake will do their best to give the New York fans something to remember.
“It would be nice to leave New York with a personal best,” said Thompson, whose career-fastest 100 is 9.89. “Not to take anything away from Asafa, or the others for that matter, but I’m pretty much the next guy after that.”
If the men’s 100 now lacks the world’s very fastest, the women’s 200m field boasts the quickest of the quick.
The protagonists are Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica, who won Olympic gold medals over the half-lap distance in 2004 and 2008, and owns a career best clocking of 21.74, and American Allyson Felix, who ran off with golds at the 2005, 2007 and 2009 World Championships, and has a 21.81 best-ever.
Surprisingly, the two have never met on US soil.
“That’s kind of amazing,” Felix said. “But I don’t know if that will give me a home-track edge or not. I know a whole lot of Jamaica fans will be in the stands, too.”