Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

It’s not as if it was the first time Usain Bolt has been upstaged.

The 30-year-old multiple world and Olympic champion, who will retire from the track this season, was feted as never before after his relatively sluggish 100 metres victory in 10.06sec in Ostrava, with the crowd forming a choreographed message of thanks to UB in the stands, and the Jamaican national anthem being sung to him.

But the highlight of the annual Golden Spike meeting had occurred three quarters of an hour earlier as South Africa’s Olympic 400m champion and world record holder Wayde Van Niekerk set a startling world 300m best of 30.81, eclipsing the mark of 30.85 set at altitude in Pretoria 17 years ago by the then world 200 and 400m record holder Michael Johnson, and also the official best of 30.97 set by Bolt on the same track in 2010.

Bolt loves his dancing. He was dancing on the infield of the Mestsky Stadion last night as they played "Simply The Best" in his honour. But was this also the night when the great DJ Athletics Mixer began his fade out of Bolt and fade in of the 24-year-old Van Niekerk as the sport’s pre-eminent figure?

There were many speculating along these lines in the aftermath of this annual International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Challenge meeting, perhaps with the images fresh in their mind of Bolt apparently electing not to do a lap of honour - although he completed a 40min version that was scheduled at the end of the meeting as well as managing one showcase long jump - and twice leaning down from the hips to stretch both his hamstrings.

The contrast with the electric energy of the man whose Twitter tag is @WaydeDreamer - and who is now the only athlete to have run the 100m in sub-10 seconds, the 200m in sub-20, the 300m in sub-31 and the 400m in sub-44 – could hardly have been more acute.

Wayde Van Niekerk upstaged Usain Bolt at the Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava by eclipsing the world 300m best the Jamaican had set on the same track in 2010 ©Getty Images
Wayde Van Niekerk upstaged Usain Bolt at the Golden Spike meeting in Ostrava by eclipsing the world 300m best the Jamaican had set on the same track in 2010 ©Getty Images

But as I say, Bolt has been here before. At the IAAF Diamond League in Brussels six years ago, his 100m victory was overshadowed by an extraordinary 200m time of 19.26 - second on the all-time list behind Bolt’s 19.19 world record - by Yohan Blake, the younger training partner who had profited from the defending champion’s disqualification for a false start to win the world 100m title a week or so beforehand.

For all Blake’s prodigious times, however, Bolt retained his Olympic 100 and 200m titles in London the following year.

Still those Olympic titles remain his, but as he heads towards the IAAF World Championships in London  - with the 100m final on August 5 - fixed on bringing his championship career to an end by contesting the 100m and 4x100m but not his sacred discipline of the 200m, time - the remorseless competitor whom no athlete can ultimately resist - is working against him.  

Watching and providing comment for BBC 5Live, Britain’s 200m Olympic silver medallist and 4x100m gold medallist Darren Campbell opined: "We know the showman he is. For him to skip a lap of honour - he’s not in a great place."

Bolt’s own view:  "I’m not happy with the time, but I’m just getting into my running. I have some training to do…"

That training was disrupted for two or three weeks by the untimely death in a motorbike crash of Germaine Mason, who won Olympic high jump silver medal for Britain in 2008. When you have spent time digging the grave of good friend, it  sets mere sporting questions into a bigger and sadder context.

"His preparation is not normally where it used to be at this time, so he certainly has ground to catch up," Bolt’s coach, Glen Mills, told the Jamaica Gleaner, adding that he thought he had run "brilliantly" in winning his last race on home soil, at the Racers Grand Prix, in 10.03 on June 10.

“His 10.03 in his first race in almost a year with the setbacks in place - if we can build on that over the next six to seven weeks, we should be able to be right where we can feel comfortable taking on the rest of the world,” Mills said.

Top men, present, past, future? Wayde Van Niekerk and Usain Bolt chat at a press conference in Ostrava ©Getty Images
Top men, present, past, future? Wayde Van Niekerk and Usain Bolt chat at a press conference in Ostrava ©Getty Images

While Bolt may not be in a great place right now, he is surrounded by sprinters who are.

However the debate goes on who is the sport’s leading light, it seems Bolt will never coincide competitively with Van Niekerk - unless, of course, the Jamaican’s reluctance to confirm that he would end his career at the London Championships, as he has previously maintained, prefigures some showdown finale with this hugely adaptable and amiable young man from Cape Town.

Bolt is, however, now facing some rivals who are travelling towards the London 100m at a far swifter pace.

This year’s world 100m rankings are currently led by Tennessee College runner-turned Nike professional Christian Coleman. This confident 21-year-old has already run 9.82 and last weekend, at the cut-throat, first-three-past-the-post USA Track and Field World Championship trials in Sacramento, he secured his 100 and 200m places for the impending Worlds.

Coleman may lead the rankings, but he is not the fastest man over 100m this season. That distinction falls to Canada’s 22-year-old Olympic 100m bronze medallist and 200m silver medallist Andre De Grasse, who was blown by a 4.8 metre per second following wind to a time of 9.69 at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Stockholm earlier this month.

 Soon afterwards I spoke to the young Canadian as he gathered his breath, and it seemed his wits, just beyond the finish line. If you had to find a single word for his expression, it would be: excited.

"It was a shock to me when I saw the time on the board, I just wanted to run sub 10 and I didn't feel in the shape to run that fast," he said, a faint smile playing on his face.

"That's the fastest I've ever run ever. It's going to be a shock to the body - tomorrow's going to hurt a little bit, but I’m just looking forward to the next race and see what I can do legally."


Despite winning his 100m in Ostrava in 10.06, Usain Bolt was a relatively subdued figure, feeling his hamstrings and turning down the option of doing a farewell lap of honour ©Getty Images
Despite winning his 100m in Ostrava in 10.06, Usain Bolt was a relatively subdued figure, feeling his hamstrings and turning down the option of doing a farewell lap of honour ©Getty Images

De Grasse’s plan was to get past the impending Canadian trials - which he won in 9.99 from another young sprinter, Aaron Brown, who has run 9.96 this season - before concentrating on the 200m.

But he will be a formidable opponent over short and long sprints in London.

Will Coleman, who has run all through the college competitions earlier this year, be able to extend his season all the way to London? We shall see.

He will surely have learned valuable lessons from the US trials, however, having had to settle for second place in the 100 and 200m finals after being passed in the closing steps - by Ameer Webb in the longer sprint, and in the shorter sprint, by the controversial 35-year-old former world and Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, who clocked 9.95.

Gatlin, who has served two doping suspensions in his career, the most recent a four-year ban, was a diminished force at last year’s Olympics, but still took 100m silver behind Bolt - who will surely be seeking a sub-10 second time in his next scheduled race at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Monaco on July 21.

Now, despite further injury problems, the veteran American appears to have got himself back into the running at the ideal time. It would be ironic indeed were Bolt’s 100m dominance to be ended at his final championships by an older, rather than a younger sprinter…