Usain Bolt: Sprinting great under pressure as he tries to retire in style

Usain Bolt
Usain Bolt has been unable to break 10 seconds in his past two 100m races - the first time he has failed to do so twice in a row

In the industrial heartland of the Czech Republic, it was fitting that Usain Bolt produced a workmanlike performance. His win here in Ostrava on Wednesday, in 10.06 seconds, left him in joint-31st place in the 100 metres rankings for the season - and unconcerned.

Bolt described the run as "pretty slow" and said he would be getting treatment for stiffness in his back, a familiar condition, before returning to action at the Diamond League meeting in Monaco in three weeks' time.

He appeared anxious briefly after crossing the finish line but shrugged off the unease to take on the dual roles of host and guest at his own farewell party.

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Usain Bolt wins in one of his final 100m races in Czech Republic

At a venue "almost like home", where he was competing for the ninth time, the organisers said goodbye in style. Spectators lining the stands along the back straight held aloft plastic sheets to form an 80-metre wide Jamaican flag as Bolt joined in passionately during the singing of his island's national anthem.

Injury worries were allayed as he danced, on a specially-erected stage, to Tina Turner's 'Simply The Best' and later made two unscheduled attempts at the long jump in a near-empty arena.

Usain Bolt
Bolt has built a huge online presence with more than 25m followers across his social media accounts

In between those jaunts, he spent the best part of an hour signing autographs, patiently inching his way around the perimeter of the track to give many hundreds of spectators a memento to treasure. We need not wonder how he has become the most popular, as well as the greatest, athlete of all time.

There may be fewer than a handful of sightings to come of Bolt in action. To follow the fans, including many families, making their way to the Mestsky Stadium was to be reminded of what he has brought to a sport in turmoil.

Given that his appearances each year are confined to a three-month window across the European summer, his impact on global sport has been all the more remarkable.

In Ostrava, an old blast furnace - a revered symbol of times gone by - has been named the Bolt Tower and the mark he has left on this unremarkable outpost is reflected elsewhere. From here he must rediscover the best days of his own past if he is to end his career in the kind of glory that has become the norm.

Bolt's form, fitness and focus on his 'farewell tour'

Usain Bolt
The eight-time Olympic champion won narrowly in Ostrava, beating Cuba's Yunier Perez by 0.03secs in the 100m

The race here was Bolt's second of the season and with only the Monaco assignment to come before the World Championships in early August, it would appear that he is in danger of reaching London 2017 under-cooked.

Yet there were similar concerns before the Olympics in London five years ago and the World Championships in Beijing in 2015 and on each occasion he won three gold medals.

This time, the focus is on one individual event, the 100 metres. He turns 31 soon after the championships in London, and has been competing at world-class level for more than half his life.

The training and travelling necessary to maintain his staggering rate of success are key factors in his decision to retire at the end of this season and the nursing of his body from here on will have a huge impact on his performance on the main stage in Stratford in five weeks' time.

As he said here last night, "it always comes down to the championships" and his ability to produce his best when it matters most. In winning 13 individual gold medals at Olympics and World Championships across almost a decade, he has recorded his fastest time of the season in the final on every single occasion.

Bolt's main rivals

Two years ago, Justin Gatlin arrived in Beijing for the World Championships on a winning run of more than 20 races. Significantly, Bolt had run in none of them. Gatlin succumbed when the big man's breath could be heard alongside. The American finished second in both sprints.

The best in all sports intimidate as well as dominate; Gatlin and the breakthrough generation of sprinters must find the temperament to match the occasion if Bolt's swansong is to be blemished.

Justin Gatlin Christian Coleman
Justin Gatlin won the men's 100m final at the US World Championship trials last weekend, beating Christian Coleman (right)

Gatlin won the 100 metres at the US trials last weekend in 9.95 seconds to the surprise of many, even Bolt.

Beaten into second place in Sacramento was Christian Coleman, the 21-year-old revelation of the American collegiate season who heads the world rankings with a time of 9.82secs at the NCAA championships in Eugene, Oregon, earlier this month.

With almost 50 races - including relays - on his log for 2017, Coleman can be said to be battle-hardened but he might also be battle-weary.

As the reigning champion, Bolt receives a wildcard into the the championships in London. In Bolt's absence at the Jamaican trials in Kingston, Yohan Blake completed the sprint double. His 9.90secs mark in the shorter sprint represented a hint of a return to his best. Only Coleman has run quicker in 2017.

Canada's Andre de Grasse won bronze in the 100m and silver over 200m behind Bolt at last year's Olympics in Rio and has been talking bullishly about improving on those positions but he needs a sub-10secs clocking to justify and amplify his promises.

British sprinters compete to take on Bolt

Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake
Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake (left) finished 11th in the men's 200m semi-final at his first Olympic Games in 2016

The quickest British sprinter heading into the weekend's trials in Birmingham is Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake, born in Newham and based in recent years at Louisiana State University.

He ran 9.99secs at the South-Eastern Conference championships in the US last month and is the only Briton to have broken 10 seconds this summer. CJ Ujah has been running consistently on the Diamond League circuit and should now be sharp enough to go close.

Adam Gemili has the best global championship form, agonisingly missing out on bronze in the 200m in Rio by three-thousandths of a second. Other contenders in open sprint fields include Ojie Edoburun, Zharnel Hughes, James Dasaolu, Reece Prescod, Richard Kilty and Harry Aikines-Aryeetey, who won at the European Team Championships in Lille last weekend.

At stake are places in an event likely to become forever known as the one in which the greatest of them all said farewell.

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