Two years after Usain “Lloingwany” Bolt set the blue Mondo track at the Berlin Olympic Stadium ablaze, the heat of the “Bolt effect” is still very much being felt going into this year’s World Championships in Athletics that throw off against another blue backdrop at the impressive Daegu Stadium here on Saturday.
The 25-year-old Jamaican sprints world record holder is easily the face of global athletics, and has been since his 2008 Olympic double in Beijing, a status he cemented with triple world records (100m, 200m and 4x100m relay) at the Berlin Worlds a couple of years back.
A “honorary” Maasai warrior, given the name Lloingwany (warrior of warriors) during his Kenya trip in 2009, Bolt’s ubiquitous posters dominate the Daegu streets and his trademark “to de world” pose - arms outstretched, pointing skyward, is with us again, although there is rumour that he will unleash fresh trademark celebrations next week.
It wouldn’t be a big risk to gamble on the fact that every nine in 10 people who know how to read and write here in Daegu know who Bolt is. That’s how phenomenal this man from the Trelawney Parish in Jamaica is.
The 100 metres final is on too early on the programme here, one would feel, the most eagerly awaited nine point something seconds of world sport blasting away as early as Day Two (Sunday night) from 8.45pm local time (2.45pm Kenyan time).
But before Bolt takes to the track for the first round of the 100m at 12.55pm (6.55am Kenyan), the 2010 IAAF World Athlete of the Year, Kenya’s David Rudisha, would have already dug his Adidas spikes into the blue tartan here, with the 800m men’s first round rolling off at 12.05pm (6.05am Kenyan).
It’s a pity that, despite him being the top athlete on the globe last season, Rudisha hasn’t been marketed well worldwide, something his manager, bald-headed American John Templeton, should consider as a bit of a wasted opportunity.
You don’t see Rudisha’s images here as much as you do Bolt’s. In fact, I’m yet to see any of Rudisha thus far.
The Jamaican arrived in South Korea last week, his manager, Britain’s Ricky Simms, and his shoe company, Puma, eager to milk every marketing opportunity here as they did in Berlin two years ago, and, indeed, at every chance that lends itself. Including his 25th birthday celebrated here a day ago before admiring Korean fans.
Bolt may be the most sought-after athlete, and, according to Sports Business magazine, the most marketable sports personality in the world, but Rudisha’s talent is equally awe-inspiring and extraordinary.
The Jamaican himself is on record admiring Rudisha’s enormous talent.
“A lot of people say we are similar in the way we run – both tall and powerful,” Bolt said of Rudisha after the man from Kilgoris became the first Kenyan to win the IAAF World Athlete of the Year last October.
The Kenyan contingent is expected here today with the championships’ first competition - the women’s marathon - looking to have a Kenyan winner. It will be run on the streets of Daegu from 9.00am (3.00am Kenyan time) on Saturday.
Kenyans dominated the blazing hot Delhi Commonwealth Games women’s marathon last summer and the fact that the Daegu World Championships marathon will also be run under very humid conditions should hold the Kenyan girls in good stead.
On Monday, temperatures here hit a high of 21 degrees celcius with humidity levels of 83 percent. The forecast for marathon race day on Saturday is a high of 26 degrees and a low of 22, with thunderstorms predicted as the day wears on.
There was a slight drizzle on Monday with light showers expected today and rain on Tuesday. But Thursday and Friday clear on the five-day forecast, setting the stage for action to begin on dry ground on Saturday.
The marathon course here, as it was in Berlin two years ago, is flat, spectator-friendly and multi-lap, run twice over 15-kilometre loops and once over a 12.195km loop and will start and finish at Gukchae-bosang Memorial Park downtown.
Bizarrely, for all of the country’s embarrassment of marathon talent, there were no women’s medals to show at the Brandenburg Gate finish in Berlin two years ago.
But this year, I can bet my bottom shilling - or Korean Won for that matter - that the stellar cast of London marathon bronze medallist Edna Kiplagat (personal best 2:20.46), Paris Marathon champion Priscah Jeptoo (2:22.55), Toronto Marathon champ Sharon Cherop (2:22.43), Commonwealth Games title holder from Delhi 2010 Irene Jerotich Kosgei (2:28.57run at altitude in Nairobi) and Caroline Rotich (2:29.46) will be dominant and will take the team prize too.