Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin are among more than 600 athletes who have converged on Nassau, in The Bahamas, for this weekend’s second running of the International Association of Athletics Federation’s (IAAF) World Relays.
And if the Jamaican world 100 and 200m record holder ends up running head-to-head with the man who has served two doping bans, it will, he says, not be an issue.
Whether the two sprinters will meet on the track at the Thomas A Robinson stadium – which will also host the third World Relays in 2017 – depends upon how their respective Jamaican and United States teams decide to deploy their talents over the 4x100m and the 4x200m.
Bolt, who recently ran a 200m in 20.20sec in his home town of Kingston, has suggested he will run in both in what will be his debut in the event, having missed Nassau last year because of injury.
“I haven’t discussed it with my coach as yet,” he said.
“But I would personally want to do the 4x100m and 4x200m just to get runs under my belt to get some sharpness.”
The 28-year-old, who has anchored Jamaica to two Olympic titles and three world golds in the 4x100m relay, added: “It’s going to be serious business for me in The Bahamas.
“The harder I run the better I’ll get over the races so I have to run hard to get my body used to competing and running hard and just to get into race sharpness.
“I need to get into race sharpness so when I go on the circuit I’m at the best and that’s the main focus.”
Gatlin, 33, will also be making his World Relays debut.
In a year where Bolt was absent in 2014, the former Olympic champion, who returned from a second doping ban in 2010, finished top of the world rankings in both 100 and 200m, setting his fastest times in both at 9.77 and 19.68.
Last month the news that Nike had offered Gatlin a new sponsorship deal provoked widespread dismay and anger among a number of athletes and other observers of the sport.
Speaking at the pre-event press conference, Bolt maintained he had no issues with running against Gatlin.
“When it comes to Justin Gatlin, I think he served his ban,” Bolt told reporters in The Bahamas. “For me, it’s not an issue. Justin Gatlin’s a great competitor. … He makes the sport interesting. I look forward to running with him this season. It’s going to be interesting, because he’s been saying quite a lot.”
Bolt’s last 100m defeat came at the hands of Gatlin on June 6, 2013. Bolt subsequently beat Gatlin at the 2013 World Championships, but they did not go head to head in 2014 as Bolt missed virtually the whole season due to foot surgery.
Bolt also made it clear that he had no intention of running the 4x400m for Jamaica at next year’s Olympics.
Lamine Diack, President of the IAAF, commented: “The creation of the IAAF World Relays is the latest example of athletics’ continual evolution as a sport. The IAAF is especially pleased that this exciting new competition has found a natural home in The Bahamas, a nation with a rich and successful history in the relays.
“Bahamians have enthusiastically taken the World Relays to their hearts. We are therefore delighted that The Bahamas will also be the hosts for the next edition which takes place in two years’ time in 2017.”
Both the men’s 4×100 and x200m events were won by Jamaica in 2014 – the latter in a time of 1:18.63, which was one of three world records set during the hugely successful inaugural running of a competition which this year has BTC as its title sponsor.
The top eight teams in both the men’s and women’s 4x100m and 4x400m will automatically qualify for Rio.
The event offers total prize money of $1.4 million (£923,000/€1.2 million) and qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
In addition, the top eight teams in each event will be awarded prize money with the gold medallists taking home no less than $50,000 (£33,000/€44,500).
In the event that a team breaks a world record in Nassau, an additional bonus of $50,000 will also be awarded.
Live streaming of the event via the IAAF YouTube channel will be available in more than 120 countries, with the Relays to be aired live in the US on Universal Sports.
Gatlin joins a US team which won the Golden Baton last year for amassing the most points within the scoring system; but while their women won the 4x100m, 4x200m and 4x400m treble, the men came to grief in both the 4x100m and 4x200m, being respectively disqualified in their heat and disqualified for a faulty changeover in the final.
The US has sent a strong team again this year including three of the four members of the world record women’s 4x100m team in Tianna Bartoletta, four-time Olympic gold medallist Allyson Felix and three-time Olympic medallist Carmelita Jeter.
Four-time Olympic gold medallist Sanya Richards-Ross will team up with world indoor champion Francena McCorory and Olympic bronze medallist DeeDee Trotter in the women’s 4x400m.
LaShawn Merritt, who anchored his country home to a narrow victory over hosts Bahamas in the 4x400m final last year – the re-match promises to be one of the highlights of the weekend – is also entered.
Two-time world 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop will return to Nassau as the Kenyan team looks to replicate – or even better – their tally of three wins in the men’s 4x800m, 4x1500m and women’s 4x1500m.
Other entrants include Bahrain’s Maryam Yusuf Jamal, Dominican Republic’s Lugelin Santos, Great Britain’s Richard Kilty, Japan’s Yoshihide Kiryu, Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, Poland’s Adam Kszczot, and Trinidad and Tobago’s Lalonde Gordon and Michelle-Lee Ahye.