Tokyo Olympics: Athletics already has the new Usain Bolt - it’s time to appreciate Elaine Thompson-Herah
Track and field has been looking for its next big thing ever since Bolt retired, but is Thompson-Herah the worthy successor? His fellow Jamaican is the second fastest female sprinter ever and she won triple gold at Tokyo, making her the most dominant sprinter the sport currently has - but could the likes of Dina Asher-Smith challenge her?
'Would you believe it?!' - Watch Thompson-Herah storm to 100m gold
Every sport craves a hero, but filling the shoes of Usain Bolt was never going to be easy for athletics. The Jamaican is one of track and field’s greatest of all time, and he came along at a point when the sport needed a lift - both in terms of its interest, and after a number of high profile doping scandals.
Since he retired in 2017, athletics has been looking for a successor - but surely it has already found that person in Elaine Thompson-Herah.
Bolt's fellow Jamaican utterly dominated the Tokyo Olympics, winning gold in all three events she competed in. Talk before the Games was whether Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce would be the woman to beat, if the USA’s Sha'Carri Richardson could fulfil her promise or if Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith could be a serious contender for gold. Not many were talking about Thompson-Herah.
In the end, Richardson missed out because of testing positive for a recreational drug and Asher-Smith carried an injury into the Games which ended her challenge. Thompson-Herah obliterated the rest of the field.
Despite being the reigning double sprint champion from Rio 2016, Thompson-Herah was barely in the conversation pre-Games, mainly because injury had robbed her of her best form in the build-up. She ended up having the year of her life.
'No woman has done that before!' - Thompson-Herah seals stunning sprint double with 200m gold
Victory in the 100m in 10.61 smashed the Olympic record, set by Florence Griffith-Joyner 33 years previously. Gold in the 200m was rapid too - she set the second fastest time ever as she continued her battle with the great American’s legacy. With Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson and Briana Williams in the 4x100m relay team, Thompson-Herah was always likely to win a triple crown - and they delivered.
Since then, she has gone even closer to Griffith-Joyner’s all-time 100m record - moving to just 0.05s behind her with another stunning performance at the Diamond League meeting in Eugene.
Only Griffith-Joyner’s stunning times hang over Thompson-Herah - perhaps that is why she does not yet enjoy superstar status outside of her own sport. But with five Olympic golds, and as the second fastest woman of all-time, she surely must be appreciated more for what she has achieved so far - watch out for that world record in July.
Warholm, Ingebrigtsen and Mu destined for history?
Athletics has plenty of other names to get excited about, as more big names approach the latter stages of their careers - like the extraordinary Eliud Kipchoge.
Karsten Warholm produced what Michael Johnson described as “one of the most impressive performances in the history of the sport”, breaking his own world record by over three-quarters of a second to win the 400m hurdles ahead of Rai Benjamin, in what many believe was one of the greatest Olympic races of all time.
‘Simply stunning!’ - Warholm smashes own world record to win hurdles gold
His fellow Norwegian Jakob Ingebrigtsen set a new Olympic record to claim gold in the 1500m, while American teenager Athing Mu looks like she is going to be a superstar after claiming a dominant victory in the 800m.
Tokyo was deprived of a men’s pole vault competition for the ages, with Armand Duplantis taking what was a relatively easy gold after Sam Kendricks tested positive for coronavirus before the competition started.
All of these athletes could also become superstars - but because they compete outside of the blue riband events, they are perhaps not getting the recognition they truly deserve - especially in the case of Warholm.
Who should British fans get excited about?
The hype around Dina Asher-Smith will and should continue - she was just unfortunate that she picked up an injury so close to the start of the Games. The 26-year-old is not yet at her peak, and at Paris 2024, she will be at a similar age to what Thompson-Herah is doing now.
Keely Hodgkinson is another who will be one to watch over the coming years, following her brilliant silver in the 800m. The only issue will be trying to find a way past Mu.
'What a performance!' - GB's Muir takes quite brilliant silver in 1500m
Laura Muir now has a monkey off her back having claimed a major global medal by winning 1500m silver and she will be looking to go one better at the World Championships in Eugene.
On the men’s side, there is so much talent in the 1500m, but again there is Ingebrigtsen and Timothy Cheruiyot to get past. Josh Kerr picked up bronze at the Olympics, while Jake Wightman is also making exciting progress.