KINGSTON, Jamaica — Usain Bolt’s Olympic quest is in question after the sprint superstar left his country’s national championships with a hamstring injury shortly before he was going to run the 100-meter final Friday night.
Bolt said he was diagnosed with a grade 1 hamstring tear — the most mild sort — and that the discomfort began presenting itself in his quarterfinal race Thursday night.
He’s not out of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, but the national meet serves as the Jamaican Olympic trials. His status now hinges on how he does at a July 22 meet in London. Unlike in the United States, where the top three finishers in each event qualify for the Olympics with no exceptions, Bolt can still make it to Rio if he can prove he’s fit.
— Usain St. Leo Bolt (@usainbolt) July 2, 2016
Bolt also posted on Instagram that he was “starting the recovery process right away.”
A photo posted by Usain St.Leo Bolt (@usainbolt) on Jul 1, 2016 at 8:02pm PDT
That was just one part of a bizarre night at National Stadium.
Bolt’s longtime rival Yohan Blake won the 100 title and formally qualified for the Rio Games — but only after a false-start disqualification call against him was overturned after review.
Blake, who finished second to Bolt at the London Games in the 100, said he was confident that the world-record holder will be in Rio.
“No doubt, no doubt, no doubt,” Blake said. “It’s just a caution measure. He’s good. Just being cautious.”
American Justin Gatlin, who has been Bolt’s biggest challenger the past few years, also believes Bolt will be in Rio.
“He will be on the Olympic team,” Gatlin said at the U.S. Olympic trials, where he starts qualifying in the 100 on Saturday. “I don’t see him missing out. He’s going to do what he needs to do.”
Blake won Friday’s 100 final in 9.95 seconds, 0.01 ahead of Nickel Ashmeade. Jevaughn Minzie placed third in 10.02 seconds, which figures to send him to Rio — although his role could depend on how Bolt’s hamstring recovers.
“I’m just smiling,” Minzie said.
Bolt’s absence was announced on social media but never to the crowd, which left many of the green-and-gold-clad fans wondering what was going on with the national hero who would likely be considered the favorite to win the Olympic 100 gold for a third consecutive time — something no man or woman has ever accomplished.
Then came the false start, followed by a review and a showing of the red card to Blake. He reacted with anger, and security officials stepped onto the track just in case. Then came another review of the tape; Blake was cleared and he went back to his lane.
“I waited four years for this,” Blake said. “I’ve been injured, I’ve been battered and I just made it back.”
Even with the injury, Bolt won both of his heats at this meet, first the quarterfinal Thursday and then the semifinal Friday. He was also scheduled to compete in the 200-meter events Saturday and Sunday.
Bolt seemed to be looking at the clock at the end of his semifinal, which he won in 10.04 seconds and capped by giving runner-up Senoj-Jay Givans — his closest pursuer — a knowing smirk as they crossed the line.
He put on a fresh shirt and walked off the track after a couple of minutes, giving no indication that he was hurting. The news came about an hour later.
“We need him out there,” said Asafa Powell, the veteran who was fourth in Friday’s final. “I’m sure he’ll be fine. I’m sure he’ll be fine for Rio. I’m sure he’s just being very cautious.”
Elaine Thompson was being anything but cautious on her way to knocking off two-time defending Olympic 100 gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and winning the national title. Thompson equaled Jamaica’s record in the 100, winning with an emphatic time of 10.70 seconds. She beat Fraser-Pryce by 0.23 seconds.
Thompson isn’t new on the world track scene — she’s the 2015 world silver medalist in the 200 — but what awaits in Rio will represent her first taste of Olympic bright lights.
She is only 24, and has long been thought of in her country as the heiress apparent to Fraser-Pryce and Veronica Campbell-Brown (who was fourth Friday in the women’s 100 final) atop the Jamaican women’s sprint throne.
That day might have arrived.
“I’m feeling good,” Thompson said. “I’m excited.”
The meet continues Saturday and Sunday, without its biggest star.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.