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Nitro Athletics: Bolt to Bow Out with a Bang

MELBOURNE. — The athletics world is hoping to cash in on the success of cricket’s high-octane Twenty20 format with a new team event spearhe...

MELBOURNE. — The athletics world is hoping to cash in on the success of cricket’s high-octane Twenty20 format with a new team event spearheaded by Usain Bolt which starts today in Australia. 

The inaugural Nitro Athletics in Melbourne, which will also be held on February 9 and 11, features non-traditional events such as middle-distance and hurdles relays. World 100-metre record holder. Bolt said yesterday: “We just want to make it more exciting so I’m looking forward to seeing the crowd reaction to what we are doing.”

Twelve events each evening will include an elimination mile, where the slowest runners are knocked out after each lap until three competitors contest the final circuit. Male and female runners will also accumulate team points in a 60-metre (65.6-yard) dash, the 150 metres and a 2×300-metre relay.

Usain Bolt

Bolt will be supported by US Olympic hurdle champion Kerron Clement and sprinter Asafa Powell to try to draw in the crowds. “I think it’s going to be great, it’s going to be like cricket, but Twenty20,” Bolt said.

The format sees an “All-Stars” team captained by the Jamaican sprinter compete against teams from Australia, China, Japan, England and New Zealand. “Hats off to you guys for being brave enough to step out of the box that athletics has found itself in for donkey’s years,” England’s captain and 2008 Olympic champion Christine Ohuruogu said.

Australia’s Twenty20 Big Bash League smashed spectator and television viewership records this season pulling in families and younger spectators. Crowds averaged 30 114 a game, Cricket Australia said.

Athletics Australia chief Phil Jones said there was a need to lift spectator and sponsorship interest in athletics outside the Olympics and World Championships. “We have a number of backers,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The concept is supported by International Association of Athletics Federations president Sebastian Coe. Meanwhile, an uncommonly early start to his racing campaign could pay a big dividend down the track for Bolt.

The Jamaican will bring down the curtain on the greatest career in track and field history at the world championships in London in August. Bolt has won every 100m and 200m title at Olympic and world level since 2008 – with the exception of the 2011 100m world crown when he false-started in the final.

The 30-year-old has now dropped the half-lap race from his program but is hellbent on claiming one more major 100m gold medal in London. “It would be great to go out at my best running 9.7 or 9.6,” said Bolt, whose 100m world record of 9.58 seconds was set in 2009. Being able to run early in the season is always good and the fact that I have no injuries is good.

“Most of the time in January and February I have niggles, but to have no problems is a good sign and I’m happy about that.” Bolt usually doesn’t start racing until May or June, but that schedule has been turned on its head by the inaugural Nitro Athletics series, which kicks off on Saturday night in Melbourne.

Bolt is the star attraction in the teams-based concept, in which he has a financial stake. – AFP.

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