Life after Usain Bolt: Who can Jamaica turn to next?
The question of legacy looms large for athletics in Jamaica.
When Usain Bolt hung up his spikes for the final time in 2017, he had reached transcendence; everyone in the world knew the name Bolt.
Tokyo 2020, set in 2021, will be the first Olympics since the Jamaican exited right from the stage of track and field, and naturally the spotlight now burns on those he left behind.
Meet the inheritors of the Bolt-burden; the ones trying to find their own way across the chasm the eight-time Olympic gold medallist left when he retired.
Julian Forte - 100m and 200m
Julian Forte is not a “fresh” talent per se.
His start on the track, began like so many of his most decorated compatriots. He clinched the sprint double at the 2010 Jamaican High School Championships before then shifting up a gear to take silver in the 200m at the 2012 World Junior Championships.
The Jamaican secured his first senior medal at the 2014 IAAF World Relays, when he passed the baton to Yohan Blake, the world’s second fastest ever man after Bolt. The team ran 37.77s to win gold at the event.
Forte screamed potential.
Injuries and poor timing however, has meant the 28-year-old’s career to date has lacked any real consistency.
In 2016, Forte came home in third at the Jamaican Olympic trials to qualify for the Games but was forced to concede the place to Bolt ahead of Rio 2016. He bounced back in 2017 to hit two personal bests (PB) – 9.91s in the 100m and 19.97s in the 200m –then dropped out of the Commonwealth Games in 2018 due to injury.
With a strong season's best in the 100m (10.07s) and the 200m, (21.47s) Forte’s 2021 holds promise. Should he make it to Tokyo, it will be the seasoned athlete’s first ever Olympic Games.
For Forte the stakes have never been higher, and with Bolt now firmly a figure of the past can he finally make it?
Oblique Seville - 100m
In 2019, 18-year-old Oblique Seville exploded out of the blocks and into Jamaica’s public consciousness after he stormed the 100m field at the ISSA Boys and Girls Athletic Championships in a sizzling time of 10.13s.
It was a run reminiscent of Blake, who achieved the same feat in 10.11s back in 2007. The consensus quickly decreed that Bolt’s heir had finally been found.
Spirits were slightly dampened when, later that year, the emerging sprinting sensation lost out to America’s Matthew Boling in the 100m at the U20 Pan American Championships. Seville came in behind Boling in 10.21s.
For Seville’s coach Glen Mills, it was a quick reminder to Jamaica watching, that it was still too early to load the young talent with the weight of expectation.
The coach, who is famed for having trained Bolt in the earlier part of his career (2004-2009) where he set three world records and completed the sprint at Beiing 2008, has stressed that Seville is still adapting to training at the senior level.
As much as Mills may be trying to stave off the growing attention surrounding Seville, it is a job that is becoming increasingly more difficult – and understandably so. The now 20-year-old has put in some impressively consistent performances this season.
On the same day (June 6) Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce re-wrote the history books to become the fastest woman alive, and the second-fastest woman in history, Seville made history of his own be clocking in a PB of 10.10s, ahead of fellow countryman Forte (10.15s) to win the 100m.
The next barrier for the young sprinter to overcome will be the 10 second mark; going below will dictate the next portion of his trajectory.
For the young blood, who went from a PB of 10.77s in 2018 to 10.13s just a year later, there is a growing feeling that everything is possible.
Tajay Gayle - Long Jump
Few will forget the way Gayle soared to the gold medal at the 2019 World Athletics Championships in Doha.
Least of all Cuban Juan Miguel Echevarría, who had been tipped to take the title.
When the white flag shot up to confirm that the Jamaican jumper’s leap was legal spectators in the arena were stunned into applause. Gayle had successfully projected himself 8.69m, the 10th furthest long jump in the history of the field event.
The 24-year-old has not always been a jumper. Gayle dabbled in sprinting and the high jump before committing fully to the long jump at the insistence of his coach Shanieke Osbourne.
A fourth-place finish at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 pushed the competitive Jamaican to dig deeper, and in 2019 even prior to his world title, Gayle was finding consistent form in the sandpit.
Gayle’s best wind-legal jump this year stands at 8.27m. It is a significant way off his title winning jump in Doha but it keeps him in the top 10 longest jumps of this year so far.
Another surprising feature of his 2021 preparations is a PB run in the 100m. Gayle clocked a blistering 10.18s in the sprint just last month (29 May). If his run-up in the trials is anywhere near as fast, big things should be expected of the jumper.
Natasha Morrison - 100m
Talk of Bolt’s legacy can risk precluding the fact that when it comes to women’s sprinting, Jamaican athletes are currently dominating.
At 34-years-old, Fraser-Pryce is in the form of her life and looking to reclaim the 100m gold from fellow countrywoman Elaine Thompson-Herah who is the current Olympic champion.
With Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith, the Nigerian Blessing Okagbare and newcomer Sha’carri Richardson all credibly in the mix for medals at Tokyo 2020, one can feasibly ask if there is in fact any room for a rival Jamaican upstart to burst through.
Like Forte, Morrisson has been around the track a few times. The Jamaican sprinter is a two-time World Championship gold medallist in the 4x100m relay.
When it comes to the individual event Morrison hasn’t found great success on the world stage. Her best to date, is a seventh-place finish at the World Championships in Beijing 2015.
However, timing is everything and for Morrison, 2021 could be the year.
In April the sprinter dropped under 11 seconds for the first time since 2015 to deliver a PB of 10.87s.
In early June, while “Mommy Rocket” was scorching through the field to set steal headlines and a new national record of 10.63s in the 100m, her junior quietly came in second dropping once again into the sub-11 range with a finish of 10.95s.
Another way of seeing 2021 as a peaking point for Morrison is to know that she will go into the trials as the fourth fastest woman this year, undoubtedly making her one to watch.
Overthrowing the lightning Bolt will be no simple task; it may well take years before we see his like again. His influence though, is far reaching and as reference points go in athletics, the greatest of all time is never a bad place to start.