Usain Bolt absent as Jamaican team practices in London
BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — The side of the track was packed with school kids waving tiny Jamaican flags and jamming to the blaring tunes of Bob Marley.
They were waiting in the searing sun to catch any sort of glimpse of the world’s fastest runner.
Before Tuesday, Usain Bolt and the rest of the team trained for the London Olympics in complete seclusion on a track at the University of Birmingham. This was a chance to see the reigning Olympic champion in action — or even just stretching.
One by one, the Jamaicans ran by the children as they completed their workouts, drawing appreciative applause.
Bolt never appeared. Neither did Yohan Blake or any of the other top sprinters.
On this day, the highlight was when Errol Nolan walked by wrapped in a Jamaican flag. That drew quite a few cheers, possibly because the fans believed he was Bolt.
After the event, Don Quarrie, an Olympic gold medalist and the team’s technical athletics manager, was left to defend Bolt and the other big stars who stayed away from the event.
“I don’t know why he didn’t come,” Quarrie said. “We’re happy about the rest of the athletes that were there.”
So, where was he?
“If you know, tell me,” Quarrie said. “I don’t know where he is at this moment. I’m sure he’s in our training camp.”
With Bolt not showing up, it instantly led to speculation. Was he hurt? Perhaps sick?
“He’s 101 percent,” Quarrie reassured. “He’s ready.”
The sprinters that were on hand treated the kids to quite a show. Nolan, a runner from Houston whose parents are both Jamaican, came over and signed autographs.
“I’m learning my roots right now,” said Nolan, a member of 1,600-meter relay pool.
There was a Blake sighting — Dominique Blake, that is.
She’s from New York and part of the 1,600 relay. She was one of the most jubilant Jamaicans, constantly engaging the crowd on a scorcher of a day.
“A great environment,” Blake said. “This team has a lot positivity and I expect great execution. When you put positivity and great execution together, all the rest will come.”
Watching the workout from a shaded vantage point was Aloun Ndombet-Assamba, the Jamaican high commissioner to Britain. She came in from London to see how the squad was shaping up.
“The sun is shining and lots of people are here,” she said. “It’s like I’m back in Jamaica at a track meet.”
Like everyone else, she’s anxious to see the showdown between Blake and Bolt in the 100. The training partners could treat the crowd quite a show in the final on Aug. 5.
“I can’t tell you (who wins). I’m not a betting person,” Ndombet-Assamba said. “But I can tell you this — our national anthem is going to be played in the stadium.”
The Jamaicans have spent the last week training in Birmingham at a university that’s rolled out the red carpet for the squad. The school brought in a Jamaican cook to help oversee the food preparation and lined up activities such as a night at the movies.
As for the facilities, Nolan described it as, “one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Being the captain of the men’s team, Michael Frater made an appearance at the end of the nearly 2½-hour session. He chatted with the crowd and signed some autographs. Frater helped the Jamaicans set the world record in the 400 relay when they won gold in Beijing and when the team broke it again at the world championships a year later.
Any chance the relay mark falls again in London?
“First of all, we never go out there to break the world record. We go out there to get the victory first,” Frater said. “If a world record comes, then it comes.
“It’s us against the world. We’re a target. Everyone is trying to take us down. But I think we’re ready to take on the world.”
Since he’s training with Bolt and Blake, Frater was asked if he had any insight into their upcoming race.
More to the point: Will there be a new champion crowned in London?
“That’s a difficult one to say,” Frater said. “We have some great guys that are competing well. Usain Bolt is something phenomenal. I wouldn’t bet against him. I wouldn’t bet against Usain Bolt.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.