US Olympic favorites cast eye to Bolt, Jamaicans

Even as they prepare for the US trials to reach the London Olympics, American sprint stars have Usain Bolt and the Jamaicans who dominated the 2008 Beijing Olympics in the back of their minds.

The primary mission is to qualify for the Olympics with a top-three finish at the US meet starting Friday at Hayward Field, but after that comes a rematch in England against a Jamaican sprint squad that was dominant four years ago.

"We want to take that (dominance) back. The US team wants to run well," said Sanya Richards-Ross, the Jamaican-born US runner who has the fastest times in the world this year in the women's 200 and 400 meters.

On the men's side, the best US 100m time this year is 9.87 seconds by Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100 champion who was unable to defend his title at Beijing while serving a four-year doping ban.

"A lot of athletes were taken aback by Usain coming up so far so fast. I was able to observe him from afar," Gatlin said.

"He's human. He's beatable. He has false started before. He's not perfect."

Bolt is, however, the reigning 100m and 200m Olympic champion and 200 world champion, although he false started out of last year's world 100 final and compatriot Yohan Blake went on to win the world crown.

Bolt set the 100m world record at 9.58 in Berlin at the 2009 worlds and has this season's three top times, the best a 9.76 to win last month in Rome. He will run in Jamaica's Olympic trials next week.

"We're planning on them being in that 9.58-area," said Gatlin's coach, former US sprint star Dennis Mitchell. "Whether or not we can get there remains to be seen, but we are working to be our best.

"These guys do astronomical things. You have to at least match that and then look at the negative sides and see where you can attack."

Mitchell, third in the 100 at the 1992 Olympics and a member of the 1992 US Olympic 4x100 gold medal relay, echoes Gatlin's thoughts that Bolt is not unbeatable.

"There is not a guy on the planet who is not beatable," Mitchell said. "No one is running the perfect race. There are no perfect sprinters out there."

London could feature Bolt, Blake and former world record-holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica against Gatlin, Beijing 100 and 200 bronze medalist Walter Dix and former world champion Tyson Gay, coming back after hip surgery last year.

"I'm excited to see these guys I'm competing against run and set down a good time," Gatlin said. "We're all going to be on Team USA against the world."

Mitchell, who began working with Gatlin last October, has been analyzing Bolt and all of the world's top runners to set better strategy and goals for Gatlin in his bid to redeem his name after the doping ban.

"The Jamaicans have established themselves as a sprint powerhouse. We have to deal with that," Mitchell said. "There has been an evolution to what they are doing. We have to understand that before we can challenge it.

"We can't worry about what they are doing. We have to focus on what we are doing in order to be able to compete with them. We hope to put ourselves in position to beat them."

When it comes to beating Bolt, Mitchell examines not only his strides but what he tries to do in each segment of the 100 and see where flaws can be exploited.

"With Usain, there's a stride pattern," Mitchell said. "It's not a number of strides thing. It's about what you do throughout the race. We have to look at that and everything has to be tied together.

"My job is to break down the math. I bring back that mathematical equation of what we need to do. We don't worry about competitors.

"It's not about beating Usain. It's not about beating the Jamaicans. It's about being the best that you can."