- REUTERS / Kai Pfaffenbach
- Former Olympian Katharine Merry says five athletes have the potential to succeed Usain Bolt as the superstar face of track and field. Number one pick Wayde van Niekerk, a South African sprinter, can become a double World Champion this week. Usain Bolt has been the fastest man on the planet for almost a decade but bows out of the sport on Saturday.
Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt hangs up his running spikes this week, ending an illustrious career in athletics.
He burst onto the track and field scene with a world-record breaking 100-metre time of 9.72 seconds in 2008. After nine years at the top, Bolt is an eight-time Olympic champion and an 11-time World Champion.
He ran his last singles race on Saturday, picking up a bronze medal in the 100-metre event at the 2017 World Championships in London, and calls time on his running career in the 4 x 100-metre relay final on August 12.
Bolt’s impact on the sport means there are now questions over who can become the next face of athletics.
Former Team GB Olympian Katharine Merry, who won a bronze medal in the 400-metre event at the 2000 Games in Australia, told Business Insider there are five candidates.
“Bolt is the fastest we’ve had in the blue-ribbon 100-metre event and he’ll be the fastest for years to come,” Merry says. “But the sport will survive after Usain Bolt retires. We had track and field before Usain and we’ll have track and field after Usain.”
With that in mind, here are Merry’s top five candidates to take the baton from Bolt.
1. Wayde van Niekerk – sprinter
- Patrick Smith / Getty Images
Even Bolt believes that South African sprinter Wayde van Niekerk can succeed him as the superstar of athletics. He told reporters last week that “Wayde is ready for the challenge.”
Van Niekerk won 400-metre gold at the 2016 Olympics and also runs the 200 metres. He will be competing in both at the World Championships this week.
“Chances are, Wayde will win both,” Merry said, adding that he has “raw speed and natural talent.”
2. Nafissatou Thiam – heptathlete
- Ian MacNicol / Getty Images
Nafissatou Thiam beat Jessica Ennis-Hill to become an Olympic gold medalist at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janiero at just 21 years old.
Fast forward a year and the Belgian added another gold medal to her locker thanks at the 2017 World Championships in London.
“Thiam is young, fresh, and extremely talented,” Merry said.
3. Shaunae Miller-Uibo – sprinter
- Patrick Smith / Getty Images
Bahamian sprinter Shaunae Miller-Uibo is already an Olympic gold medal athlete thanks to a dramatic win in the 4000-metre final at the Rio de Janeiro games.
Just 23, Miller is looking to add her first World Championship gold medal when she takes to the 400-metre track on Wednesday.
4. Laura Muir – distance runner
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Laura Muir is Team GB’s next distance running star after Mo Farah.
“Muir is an exceptional runner,” Merry said. Just 24, she is on great form having won gold in the 1,500 and 3,000-metre events at the European Indoor Championships in Belgrade in March.
She placed fourth in the 1,500-metre final on Monday, but Merry said she could have an “even bigger chance” in the 5,000 metres on Sunday.
5. Andrew Pozzi – hurdler
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Another Briton on the list, Merry identifies Pozzi as an outstanding talent.
Though Pozzi crashed out of the 110-metre hurdles event at the World Championships on Sunday, he is still regarded to have a bright future having won gold in the 60-metre hurdles at the European Indoor Championships last March.
Katharine Merry is running the Great North Run in September for Duracell, which set up this interview.