Usain Bolt’s had a dominant year, unless you look at the times.
Bolt lost once all season, by .01 of a second, and won triple gold at the World Championships last month. He stayed healthy and made consistent improvement through the summer while his past rivals fell to failed drug tests (Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell) and injury (Yohan Blake).
Going into his final race, a 100 meters in a Brussels Diamond League meet on Friday, Bolt rated his 2013 an eight out of 10.
“I won,” Bolt, 27, said, “but I wouldn’t say it was in Usain Bolt fashion.”
He’s right. Bolt’s season’s bests are 9.77 and 19.66. (Gay has actually run faster than Bolt this year, but you’ve got to believe his 9.75 will be wiped out once his doping consequences come down).
If Bolt doesn’t go faster Friday (2:45 p.m. Eastern time), he will finish the year with his slowest season’s best in the 100 since 2010 (9.82) and in the 200 since 2007 (19.75). He will go into 2014, the lightest year in track with no Olympics or worlds, with doubts over his dominance. Blake will return healthy. The younger Jamaicans Warren Weir, Kemar Bailey-Cole and Nickel Ashmeade will probably be faster.
And then there’s Justin Gatlin, who is four years older than Bolt and probably under greater pressure to perform in 2014 as he phases out of the typical prime age for sprinters.
Gatlin was the one man who beat Bolt this year, in a 100 in Rome in June, and took silver to Bolt’s gold in the 100 at worlds by .08. That margin in Moscow was the smallest victory by Bolt in an Olympics or worlds ever.
If Gatlin can summon a surge to defeat Bolt in Brussels (Universal Sports, 2 p.m. ET), the track and field landscape will only get more interesting going into 2014.
Here are other storylines in Brussels (full start lists/timetable):
Men’s Shot Put (12:30): All the medalists from Moscow are in the field — David Storl, Ryan Whiting and Dylan Armstrong — as well as two-time Olympic champion Tomasz Majewski. If you remember worlds, Storl’s winning throw was at first called a foul but then allowed by officials after reviewing a photographer’s camera.
Men’s 400 Hurdles (2:04): Trinidad and Tobago world champion Jehue Gordon takes on American Michael Tinsley in a rematch of a thrilling worlds final, won by Gordon by .01 of a second.
Women’s 100 (2;13): One more chance for Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce to demolish a field. Fraser-Pryce’s season’s best is 10.71. Only one other woman in the field has gone sub-10.9 this season — American Barbara Pierre.
Men’s 200 (2:20): Weir, the world silver medalist and Olympic bronze medalist, is the clear favorite here. But check out American Walter Dix, the four-time world and Olympic medalist, coming back from yet another injury. Dix set a rather interesting record in a 100 in Zurich, Switzerland, last week. He finished in ninth place in 10.07 seconds, the fastest ever time for a ninth-place finish in a 100 meters race. Most elite races, of course, field eight competitors.
Women’s 400 (2:55): Christine Ohuruogu and Amantle Montsho face off again. Ohuruogu dipped to beat Montsho at worlds, even though they both crossed in 49.41 seconds. Also in the field are the top Americans from worlds — Natasha Hastings and Francena McCorory.
Men’s 800 (3:03): American Nick Symmonds gets one more shot at Ethiopian Mohammed Aman, who overtook Symmonds at worlds for gold. Symmonds took the two-lap race at last week’s meet in Zurich, but Aman was not in the field. Perhaps Symmonds will be aided by the presence of American Duane Solomon, who took out the pace hard at worlds and finished sixth.
Women’s 100 Hurdles (3:15): It’s one more opportunity for 2012 Olympic champion Sally Pearson to show she’s past a hamstring injury. The Australian peaked at worlds with back-to-back 12.50s, grabbing silver behind American phenom Brianna Rollins, who has run four times faster than Pearson’s best this year. Rollins isn’t in the field in Brussels, but the third- and fourth-place finishers from Moscow are — Tiffany Porter and Dawn Harper-Nelson.
Women’s 1,500 (3:21): American Jenny Simpson takes aim at Ethiopian-turned-Swede Abeba Aregawi, who has won five Diamond League 1,500s this season in addition to the World Championship. Simpson, who won in Monaco in July in an Aregawi-less field, took silver to the Swede in Moscow after winning the world title in 2011.