Without Bolt, track and field starts life after Olympics
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — As Usain Bolt parties in London, around 30 Olympic medalists including nine champions have headed to Switzerland for the first major track and field meeting since the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Still, none are named Bolt — now being photographed daily outside nightclubs by British paparazzi — and without the sport’s biggest star there are unsold tickets for the Athletissima meet in the Diamond League series.
Bolt’s absence lets fellow Jamaican sprint gold medalists Elaine Thompson and Omar McLeod take center stage at the 14,000-capacity stadium in the International Olympic Committee’s home city of Lausanne.
Meet director Jacky Delapierre said the stadium would have been sold out “for sure” if Bolt was running, though noted the sport must get ready for a new era.
“We have to be prepared for the future without Bolt,” Delapierre, who has worked in track for nearly 40 years, told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “We are at the end of a cycle now.”
Delapierre is in talks to bring Bolt back to Lausanne for likely the last time next July ahead of the 2017 world championships in London.
“You can have a show without Bolt,” the veteran organizer said, reminding that the stadium was full for his July 2015 meeting. “You have to sell a show. There (are) new athletes.”
Freshening up track’s headline series is a priority for meet directors, who plan talks in Brussels next month after the Diamond League finals program. Some already met with IAAF President Sebastian Coe in Rio this month, Delapierre said.
“I think athletics has a good future beside Bolt,” he said, urging the sport to work now on finding a new vision. “We have not to wait for one more year with Bolt.”
Looking to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the 22-year-old McLeod could build on his 110 meters hurdles gold to become a star.
“I know for sure the sport won’t die when Bolt is gone,” the former University of Arkansas student told The AP. “I know that there are a lot of athletes who will step up to the plate, especially in the sprints.”
McLeod acknowledged that, although Bolt’s showmanship can’t be copied, athletes need to entertain the crowds.
“I definitely think personality goes a long way,” he said. “People pay to see personality, people pay to see fast times.”
Olympic champions also in action Thursday include 100 and 200 champion Thompson in the shorter event, while Bolt’s 4x100 relay teammate Asafa Powell headlines the men’s 100.
Matthew Centrowitz, the 1,500 champion, runs in a rare 1,000-meter race, and other United States gold medalists include Dalilah Muhammad in the 400 hurdles, Michelle Carter in shot put, and Tianna Bartoletta in long jump.
In the 100 hurdles, Kendra Harrison aims at the 12.20 seconds world record she set in London last month after missing out on selection for the American Olympic team.