The Beast of Jamaica
No one got closer to the imperious Usain Bolt at London 2012 than his training partner and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake, who won silver medals behind the sprint legend in the 100m and 200m and then teamed up with him to claim gold and a world record in the 4x100m relay. The second-fastest man of all time, Blake overcame a string of injuries to win another 4x100m with Jamaica at Rio 2016.
From cricket to sprinting
A student at St Jago High School in the Jamaican town of Spanish Town, Blake was a gifted cricketer who took up sprinting at the suggestion of one of his teachers, impressed by his turn of pace. It did not take long for the youngster to shine. At the age of 16, he ran 10.11, the fastest 100m time by a junior in Jamaican sprint history.
Blake promptly joined up with Glen Mills, the man who coaches Usain Bolt. Marvelling at the youngster’s appetite for hard work, Bolt came up with a nickname for him: “He works like a beast.” He said.
The sweat and toil paid off for Blake, who in 2010 dipped under the 10-second mark for the first time, running 9.93 to announce himself as a genuine contender on the world stage.
Turning the tables
Blake’s nickname well and truly stuck in the months that followed, in which time he beat his illustrious training partner on a number of occasions. One of them came at the 2011 IAAF World Championships in Daegu (KOR), when Bolt was disqualified from the final for a false start, leaving Blake to take gold in a time of 9.92.
After running the second-fastest 200m of all time – 19.26 in Brussels in September 2011 – Blake then beat Bolt twice on the track in the space of 48 hours, outrunning him in the 100m and 200m at the Jamaican Olympic trials in July 2012 in Kingston.
Second to Bolt
However, with the Olympic gold medal at stake in London, Bolt stamped his authority by retaining the title he had won at Beijing 2008 with a new Games record of 9.63. Sandwiched in between U.S. duo Tyson Gay and Justin Gatlin in Lane 5, Blake took silver in 9.75 and expressed some disappointment afterwards with his performance: “I think I panicked a bit, but I think I held my composure. Reaching the last 40 metres I started to tighten up a bit and I didn’t pull through.”
Four days later, Blake and Bolt had 80,000 spectators inside London’s Olympic Stadium on their feet when they emerged neck and neck from the bend in the 200m final. Almost inevitably, however, “Lightning Bolt” pulled clear down the straight, taking gold in a time of 19.32, with “The Beast” clocking 19.75 to win silver. The pair then joined forces in the 4x100m final, with Blake running the third leg before handing over to Bolt, who stopped the clock in a world-record time of 36.84 to secure a third gold medal of the Games for himself and a third medal for his young compatriot.
The Beast roars
Speaking after his relay win, Blake said: “The relay is special. You give everything for the team, so yes, you sometimes run faster. We have an excellent coach, who prepares us to run in all situations.”
Discussing his two individual silvers, he added: “Only the fastest man in the world beat me. Only four years ago, I was still in high school and watching the Olympics on TV, so it was amazing for me to be among these athletes.”
Blake rounded off a fine 2012 by running 9.69 in the 100m at the IAAF meeting in Lausanne (SUI) on 23 August, a time that made him the second-fastest man in history behind Bolt.
A golden return in Rio
Blake had to contend with injury problems over the next three years. First came a right hamstring tear in April 2013, followed by a tear to his left hamstring in Glasgow in July 2014. After recovering from those setbacks, he returned to action in 2016. With Bolt suffering physical problems of his own, Blake took the honours in the 100m and 200m at the Jamaican Olympic trials, posting respective times of 9.95 and 20.29.
The Jamaican champion duly qualified for the 100m final at Rio 2016, where Bolt won the title for the third time running, in 9.81, ahead of Gatlin and Canada’s Andre De Grasse, with Blake finishing 0.02 seconds off the medals in fourth.
Eliminated in the 200m semi-finals three days later, Blake was back on the track in the 4x100m final, taking the baton from Asafa Powell for the second leg and then looking on as Nickel Ashmeade and then Bolt sealed another relay gold for Jamaica. It was Blake’s fourth Olympic medal and his second gold.
Raring to go
Having set up a foundation in support of disadvantaged children, Blake spent Christmas 2016 delivering hundreds of presents to grateful youngsters. On the last day of the year, he was back training, despite inclement weather. “Good day in the rain today,” he wrote beneath a video posted on his Instagram account. “It is not every day you are going to feel good but that’s when you push it. To God be the glory.”