2013 promises to be quite a year for Yohan Blake. In August, he travels to Moscow to defend his world 100m title while on the commercial circuit he will seek to grow his reputation for producing stunning performances and enhance his reputation as one of world sport’s most accomplished stars.
The 23-year-old Jamaican’s meteoric rise has seen his name continually in the headlines.
At the Olympic Games in London in August, Blake claimed gold as a key member of the Jamaica relay squad which, for the second straight time at a global showpiece, broke the world record. He also won silver medals in both the 100m and 200m.
Having set himself the highest possible standards – and beaten his great rival and training partner Usain Bolt at both sprints at the Jamaican Olympic trials in June – the 22-year-old was probably slightly disappointed not to have crowned his first Olympics with an individual gold medal. But for Blake, 2012 was a year when he not only seemed to run faster and faster but more often too.
Statistics do not lie. Blake ended the 2012 season as the second fastest man ever at both the 100m and 200m having clocked three of the fastest 11 runs ever over 100m and three of the nine quickest over 200m.
2011 was the year Blake won the world title; 2012 was when he entered the pantheon of athletics greats.
Feted wherever he went in the aftermath of his performances in 2012, Blake’s profile as an athlete who has transcended his sport was best illustrated shortly after the Olympics had closed by his invitation to the opening morning of the cricket Test between England and South Africa at the home of the game, Lord’s in London, to ring the bell to signal the start of play.
The 100m final in London was the fastest ever Olympic sprint race with the winner clocking 9.63sec; Blake second in 9.75sec; and another adidas athlete Tyson Gay finishing fourth in 9.80sec. It was Gay’s performance that perfectly illustrated the quality of the race as his time, 9.80sec, would have been good enough to win every Olympic final up to Beijing four years earlier.
Blake’s progress throughout the season demonstrated just why he is now regarded as one of the world’s top handful of stars. At the 100m, his winning time of 9.69sec in Lausanne placed him alongside Gay as the joint second fastest ever. In all, Blake ran four of the world’s six fastest 100m times in 2012 while over 200m he clocked three of the six quickest.
Blake’s rise to the summit of world sprinting was a reward for years of hard work and skilful coaching. Yet it all came to fruition in the space of just 20 days in 2011.
He had gone into the year touted as a sprinting prodigy and the man most likely to succeed his training partner Usain Bolt on a long-term basis. But over the coming months Blake matured even faster than even his keenest followers might have predicted. In the space of just three weeks in August and September 2011 he turned the world order on its head.
It all started on a breezy Sunday evening in South Korea and will most likely be remembered as the sporting shock of that year. The scene? The 100m final at the IAAF World Championships in Daegu when Blake ended Bolt’s three-year reign of supremacy at championship level.
It was a remarkable 100m final and the triumph of the pupil over the master – both men are coached by Glen Mills. As he had done when he won this title three years ago in Berlin, breaking the world record in the process, Bolt indulged in his characteristic showboating before the race but then lost his concentration committing a false-start.
Then, once the excitement among a stunned audience had died down, it was left to Blake to sprint to victory in 9.92sec despite a headwind of 1.4 metres per second. Blake finished 0.16sec ahead of the second-placer in completing a victory which was “Boltesque” in its dominance.
Seven nights later – in fact, in the last event of the championships – Blake laid claim to the moniker “athlete of the championships” when he ran the third leg for the victorious Jamaica 4x100m team. Their winning time broke the world record.
Four days later, and after a 12-hour flight to Europe, Blake hit the ground sprinting again. This time it was at the Zurich Diamond League meeting where he left a world-class field trailing in his wake as he clocked what was then a lifetime best, 9.82sec.
That was on the Thursday evening. By the end of the following Sunday, he’d repeated the performance – yet another 9.82sec – this time in Berlin and on the same stretch of track on which Bolt had broken the world record two years earlier.
Yet the most stunning performance of Blake’s remarkable 20 days was to come. Until the Diamond League meeting in Brussels, Blake had been regarded as a 100m specialist whose 200m potential was real but untapped and probably best left for another year. But in Brussels on September 16 he stepped well and truly out of the shadow cast by Bolt’s reputation. His winning time of 19.26sec in the Belgian capital is the second fastest ever clocked for the distance. And it could have been even faster. Blake’s reaction time was the slowest of the nine-man field and, remarkably, it was his first 200m race for four months. “Tonight I was aiming to run 19.5,” Blake said. “I was expecting something fast but not this fast.
“The last 40 metres was crazy. I’m like a beast. I just take it out on the track. When I saw him (Usain Bolt) run 19.40 at the worlds I knew I could go fast like that.”
So where has Blake come from? In terms of his development he is still in his formative years. But the record reflects that going into 2011 Blake had already gone toe-to-toe with the globe’s greatest sprinters and demonstrated that he is mature beyond his years. He is mentally tough going into the race and, when the gun fires, is explosive out of the blocks.
Blake, who is a member of the adidas Next Generation project, revels on the big stage. But like many of the world’s elite performers he had come face-to-face with bitter disappointment. His came four years ago when he went to the IAAF World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz as the outstanding favourite to win gold at the 100 metres. Two years earlier in Beijing, when he was just 16, he had finished third. But in the Polish town, after a smooth passage through the qualifying rounds, he was slow out of the blocks in the final and missed out on the medals altogether.
Within 12 months, though, Blake was sprinting half-a-second faster and leaving not only the bad memories of Bydgoszcz behind him but his rivals too.
In Rome in July 2009, he scorched to 9.96sec. Blake was just 19 years and 197 days. No one younger had ever broken 10 seconds. Then one week later in Paris he went faster still – this time to 9.93sec.
Much of the credit for Blake’s development can be given to coach Mills whose Jamaica-based Racers’ Club is one of two adidas-funded programmes – the other being in Florida. The Racers’ Club offers an environment in which tomorrow’s stars can live, eat and train alongside the Olympic and world champions of today.
Away from the track Blake shares the sort of sporting passions that are typical of a young Jamaican. He is a keen cricketer (which made his trip to Lord’s in August such a personal highlight) and takes every available opportunity to catch up with the sport at which the West Indies are past world champions. Indeed, in a charity game in Jamaica in October 2010 he claimed the prized wicket of Chris Gayle who is one of the game’s most powerful and stylish batsmen. The wicket fell when Gayle mistimed a back-foot drive off Blake’s bowling offering a straightforward chance to the mid-off fielder. And who was the player fielding at mid-off? None other than Usain Bolt.
Facts and figures
Born: December 26 1989, St James, Jamaica
IAAF world 100m champion
Olympic Games silver medallist at both the 100m and 200m
Olympic gold medallist, world champion and world record holder at the 4x100m.
Second fastest man ever at both the 100m and 200m
At 19 years and 197 days he was the youngest man to have ever broken the 10-second barrier for 100m
lifetime bests – 100m: 9.69sec (2012); 200m: 19.26sec (’11)
The world’s 10 fastest ever 100m runs …
9.58 Usain Bolt Berlin, August 2009
9.63 Bolt London, August 2012
9.69 Bolt Beijing, August 2008
9.69 Yohan Blake Lausanne, August 2012
9.69 Tyson Gay Shanghai, September 2009
9.71 Gay Berlin, August 2009
9.72 Bolt New York, May 2008
9.72 Asafa Powell Lausanne, September 2008
9.74 Powell Rieti, September 2007
9.75 Blake Kingston, JAM, June 2012
9.75 Blake London, August 2012
And the fastest over 200m …
19.19 Usain Bolt Berlin, August 2009
19.26 Yohan Blake Brussels, September 2011
19.30 Bolt Beijing, August 2008
19.32 Michael Johnson, Atlanta, August 1996
19.32 Bolt London, August 2012
19.40 Bolt Daegu, September 2011
19.44 Blake London, August 2012
19.53 Walter Dix Brussels, September 2011
19.54 Blake Brussels, September 2012
19.56 Bolt Kingston, May 2010
Timeline – Blake’s 20-day rise to stardom in 2011
August 28 he wins world 100m title in Daegu, clocking 9.92sec into a 1.4m/sec wind
September 4 Blake runs the third leg for Jamaica as they take gold and break the world record for the 4x100m in Daegu
September 8 scorches to 100m victory at the prestigious Zurich meeting on a windless night in 9.82sec
September 11 repeats his Zurich performance in Berlin with another win in 9.82sec
September 16 stuns Brussels with the second fastest ever 200m, 19.26sec