NASSAU, Bahamas, CMC – Superstar Usain Bolt will not be present but the IAAF World Relays are still expected to provide plenty excitement when the event is staged at the Thomas A. Robinson Stadium here this weekend.
Bolt is yet to turn out on the international circuit this season and his absence, while creating a void, also leaves the door wide open for others to dominate at the inaugural showpiece.
The Jamaica sprint relay men’s squad is usually anchored by the multiple World and Olympic champion but will be no less of a threat when they square off with the likes of the United States, Great Britain and hosts the Bahamas.
“Usain, unfortunately he can’t be here, but he sends his regards to everyone and he’s expecting someone to step up and fill his spot,” Blake told a press conference Friday.
Blake, Bolt’s training partner, is likely to take the spotlight. He is the emerging star from the Caribbean island that has produced a plethora of great athletes, and is widely regarded as the heir apparent to Bolt.
He is therefore likely to lead the Jamaica squad who will be heavy favourites to win the signature 4×100. Jamaica are the world record-holders with a time of 36.84 seconds, set at the London 2012 Olympics, and are winners of the last two Olympic titles.
Add to that the last three World titles and it is difficult to bet against them, even without Bolt present.
Blake, in his typical calm style, said he was anxious to line up at the event and promised Jamaica would not disappoint.
“I just want to keep the train going. I love relays myself and a good performance here would be a good return to competition for me,” he said. “It’s good to come here. They’ll see the best of us.”
Blake will look to compatriots Shane Bailey, Kemar Bailey-Cole, Nesta Carter and Andrew Fisher, as he seeks to defend Jamaica’s honour in the sprint relay.
Their biggest threat, as usual, is expected to come from the United States whose team comprises the likes of Mike Rodgers Trell Kimmons, Calesio Newman, Charles Silmon, Marvin Bracy and Rakieem Salaam.
While the sprint relay is expected to headline the showpiece, there will also be battles in the 4×200 metres, 4×400 metres, 4×800 metres and 4×1500 metres relays. Thirty-six different countries have teams entered in at least one of the five relays.
Jamaica will be heavy favourites in the 4×200 where Olympic silver medallist Warren Weir will lead the line, with the Americans again challenging with a team spearheaded by Wallace Spearmon and Walter Dix.
The 4×400 should also create a stir, with the United States, Jamaica, the Bahamas, the Dominican Republic, and several European teams expected to produce strong performances.
With World 400m champion LaShawn Merritt in the squad along with and silver medallist Tony McQuay, the Americans will be seen as distinct favourites.
However, hosts Bahamas have entered a strong team led by world indoor silver medallist Chris Brown, and which includes Demetrius Pinder, Michael Mathieu and Ramon Miller.
“When you look up at a big meet, usually you see the Jamaican flags and the American flags,” Brown told media here.
“This weekend we’ll still have the Jamaicans, but there will be plenty of our own flags as well. We’re looking to put on a show here and bring some heat.”
Fireworks are also expected on the women’s side of the draw where sprint queen, Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, will do battle in the 4×100 and 4×200 relays.
In the 4x100m, Fraser-Pryce will be joined by the championship-winning team from last year’s World Championships in Moscow – Carrie Russell, Kerron Stewart and Schillonie Calvert.
The American team of Alexandria Anderson, Tianna Bartoletta, LaKeisha Lawson, Babara Pierre, Stacey-Ann Smith are expected to play catch up.
In the 4×200, Jamaica and the US are likely to go head-to-head again, but Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, and Great Britain will be striving to cause an upset.
The World Relays will see 500 athletes from more than 40 countries competing for total prize money of US$1.4 million.