IT is the event that defines an Olympics and it boasts the man who transcends the sport.
Usain Bolt has the chance to make history tomorrow night in Olympic sport’s blue riband event, the men’s 100m final.
The defending champion is seeking to become the first man since Carl Lewis to win successive gold medals in the race that determines the fastest man alive.
Lewis only did so by default in 1988, following the disqualification of winner Ben Johnson, in the race that shocked the world in Seoul.
It took a long time for athletics to recover but it was jolted back into life by Bolt in Beijing.
The Jamaican did not just win the race but did so by showboating over the line.
He set a new world record of 9.69 seconds but could have shaved another 10th of a second off that at least, had he not been celebrating and beating his chest for the last 20 metres.
It was jaw-dropping stuff.
Bolt won three Olympic titles in 2008, setting three world records in the process.
Athletics had been struck by a force of nature.
The competition were rendered irrelevent; men like Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay, champions in any another era, left sweeping leaves on a windy day.
Twelve months on, they still had no answer as Bolt repeated the trick at the world championships in Berlin.
Only this time he went full pelt all the way and lowered his previous world’s best by a staggering 0.11 seconds to 9.58 seconds.
He also obliterated the 200m world record.
The only questions that remained three years ago was what time would he run in London, how much would he win by and in what fashion?
Bolt was a superstar, a box office name, the first sprinter since Lewis to become a true sporting hero.
He had lifted track and field out of the malaise. No longer was it a sport the average Joe watched once every four years.
The anticipation was rising ahead of the world championships in Daegu last year. What would he do this time?
But something else a great champion does is raise standards in his sport.
They evolve the sport at a lot quicker rate, just as Tiger Woods did in golf.
The competition raise their game to try and catch the man who is running away with all the headlines.
Step forward Yohan Blake, Bolt’s training partner and the latest speed machine off the Jamaican production line.
He got inside Bolt’s head before the world 100m final in South Korea, a hitherto unknown weakness of a man whose diet of fried chicken defies conventional nutritional wisdom of finely-tuned athletes.
All of a sudden a spotlight was shone on Bolt’s other big weakness, his slow start.
It was never an issue when he was winning. With his enormous stride, he powers through the maximum velocity stage of the race between 30 and 80 metres and leaves everyone trailing in his wake.
His great strength is his enormous stride. Bolt covers the distance that the majority of sprinters do in 45 strides, in 41.
But nagging internal doubts over his leap out of the blocks were exploited by Blake, who twitched on the start line, prompting Bolt to spring out of the blocks before the gun to be disaqualified for a false start. Blake won. Doubts over Bolt’s fitness this year have served to heighten the potential of a Blake victory.
And when Blake, pictured below, beat Bolt twice at the Jamaican Olympic trials, recently, the battle was on.
Suddenly, Bolt has just more than history to make in the Olympic Stadium tomorrow night, he also has a point to prove.
And the fans who will pack the stadium are in for a rare treat.
Bolt versus Blake, the showdown of the Games.
The rest of the field, though, should not be discounted.
Gay is in form this Olympic season, after hamstring problems denied him the chance to compete at his best in Beijing.
He is the only other man besides Bolt to run under 9.7 and the American is a dogged, determined competitor.
The fact that everyone is talking up Bolt and Blake could work in his favour.
A wild card could be another American, Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion of Athens.
The 30-year-old is back at the Olympics after a four-year ban for testing positive in 2006 for a hormorne testosterone.
Like Gay, he has found his rhythm and won the 60m world indoor title in March in Istanbul.
But with such a popoular cast for London 2012’s 100m competition, Gatlin would be an unpopular winner.
British interest will focus on young Adam Gemili, who was playing non-league football last season.
He has burst onto the scene at just the right time, breathing life into a declining sprint scene previously dominated by Dwain Chambers’ court battle to reach this stage.
A place in the final will be a bridge too far for teenager Gemili, but as the heats begin this morning, underlining his star potential by breaking the 10 second barrier will be a big statement.
But it is all about the lightning Bolt.
Will we see his trademark celebration as the most sensational sprinter of his generation seals his place as the greatest of all time?
The waiting is almost over.