DOHA (Reuters) – The absence of Jamaican great Usain Bolt from the world athletics championships for the first time in 16 years is being felt in the 100m sprint but paves the way for new faces to make their mark, his rival Justin Gatlin said on Friday.
Bolt, who won eight Olympic gold medals and led Jamaica through a golden era in sprinting, retired after the 2017 world championships.
“Not having him here feels weird,” said Gatlin, the defending world champion who won his first round heat with 10.06 seconds in Doha. “To be out there on the track to push myself, and have someone out there to push me to be my best.”
Gatlin said that strong competitors in the men’s 100m – including compatriot Christian Coleman and Zharnel Hughes of Britain – were making it difficult to predict who would win gold.
“It’s not like I’m in lane five and I’ve got to worry about Usain in lane four,” Gatlin said. “I’ve got to worry about all the other lanes around me. That’s the exciting part of track and field.”
Gatlin added that the unpredictability of the 100m now could draw more interest towards the event.
“That’s when you want to grab your popcorn and sit and watch,” he said. “Those are the kind of races when you want to second guess if you really want to put a bet down because it could be anybody.”
However, Canadian Andre De Grasse, who finished second behind Gatlin in their heat, said Bolt’s absence did not change the race in any way.
“Everybody is running fast still and it’s going to be crazy, so we can’t think about that,” De Grasse said.
(Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber and Gene Cherry; Editing by Christian Radnedge)