Rusty-looking Bolt aims for Rome tonic
Sprinters of the world, unite! Usain Bolt, the athlete who has galvanised the sport with a sensational series of world record-breaking performances, can have an off day.
The Jamaican, so solid on the track since his stunning rise to world fame and acclaim when he set then-world bests in the 100 and 200m in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, had, in his own words, an absolute shocker in Ostrava on Friday.
In cold, blustery conditions and following a false start, Bolt staggered to victory in 10.04 seconds, a time virtually unheard of for the man who has dipped under the mythical 10sec mark, and more tellingly, 9.8sec on numerous occasions.
His performance was his "worst" since running 10sec flat when winning in Toronto in a rainstorm in June 2009 -- shortly before he went on to win double sprint gold in the Berlin worlds in the current world record times of 9.58 and 19.19sec respectively.
The 25-year-old Bolt must be thankful he was not up against a classier field in the eastern Czech city. Veteran Kim Collins claimed second in 10.19sec with American Darvis Patton taking third (10.22).
The race went wrong from the start, a shocking reaction time leaving him last out of the blocks, with the 20 000-capacity crowd on their feet.
Bolt then failed to muscle his way through his famed "drive" phase, the mid-race period when the Jamaican unfurls his imposing physique to its maximum, setting him on fast flight to the finish line.
"I haven't run that badly since a meet in Canada. My coach will watch the race on YouTube and will tell me what I must do before Rome," he said of his outing over 100m in the Diamond League meet in the Italian capital next week.
"I had no feeling at all in the race, no feeling. I went out of the blocks badly and then nothing came.
"The false start did not affect me, that's no excuse. I'll have to go back to the drawing board, talk to the coach. It was just a bad day, I have to get past it and look forward to the next one."
Bolt, however, still owns the world leading time of 9.82sec, set earlier this month.
"I don't know what my rivals will think about it," he said of his performance on Friday.
"But it's all about the Olympics. Losing one or two races doesn't really matter. It's about getting to the Olympics and doing your best."
Collins, the 36-year-old St Kitts and St Nevis sprinter who finished second, said the result showed that Bolt was merely "human".
"It demonstrates that even Usain Bolt is human. He's put together so many strong performances, people often can't understand when he runs times not around 9.7 or 9.8sec," the 2003 world champion said.
"But it also gives me and other sprinters hope that we can catch and possibly beat him."
Compatriots Yohan Blake, who took the world 100m title in Daegu, Asafa Powell and the American duo Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin will be looking on with interest.
Bolt, who faces Powell in Rome, will be hoping his Ostrava outing was merely a blip on his way to more Olympic glory, denying that he had too many off-track demands from sponsors or found himself under too much pressure to perform.
"It's never pressure, it's always fun, I enjoy doing it," he said.
"I train every day. I know what I want. If you have a goal and want it as much as I do, it's easy.
"We work to keep everyone happy, but the focus is always the Olympics."