Usain Bolt nearly fell but still beat his two biggest domestic rivals, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell, in a pre-Jamaica Olympic Trials showdown in Kingston on Saturday night.
Bolt, the six-time Olympic champion, clocked 9.88 seconds in a 100m race, his fastest time this early in a year since 2012. Bolt stumbled in his first several steps (reminiscent of the 2015 Worlds semifinals) but overtook Blake and Powell with ease in the middle of the race, shutting down before the finish line.
“I almost fall over,” Bolt said in a TV interview shortly after the race. “I was trying to control it, but it was just one of those things. It comes and goes. I think I dragged my foot too hard, then I just tried to correct myself, and I tried not to panic, and I made my way through.”
Nickel Ashmeade took second in 9.94, followed by Blake in the same time and Powell in 9.98 seconds.
Bolt’s time is the second-fastest in the world this year behind a 9.86 from France’s Jimmy Vicaut from Tuesday. More importantly, Bolt’s biggest rival, Justin Gatlin, has been slower this year than last, with a top time of 9.93 so far.
“It means that I’m in very good nick,” Bolt said of his time, which came with a 1.0 meters/second tailwind. “The more I run, the faster I’ll get, the smoother my running will come.”
Both Bolt and Gatlin dealt with offseason injuries since they were separated by .01 in the World Championships 100m final in Beijing on Aug. 23.
Bolt’s winning streak by days is the longest of his career — 1,102 days — but he has rarely faced this kind of competition since his last defeat to Gatlin on June 6, 2013.
Blake was Bolt’s biggest rival in 2012, when Blake beat Bolt in the 100m and 200m at the Jamaican Olympic Trials and took second to Bolt in both races at the London Games. Blake has since been slowed by injuries.
Powell, the world-record holder before Bolt swiped it in 2008, was the preeminent Jamaican sprinter until Bolt emerged before the Beijing Olympics.
Bolt, Powell and Blake, three of the four fastest men of all time, were last in the same race in the 2012 Olympic 100m final. Bolt and Blake last went head-to-head in the 2012 Olympic 200m final.
Bolt, Blake and Powell will likely race again at the Jamaican Olympic Trials from June 30-July 3 in Kingston, where the top three finishers per sprint event make the Olympic team individually.
“I was happy to compete against them, because it gives you insight, I would say, to see where you are at [ahead of] trials and what you need to work on,” Bolt said.