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Bolt runs into competition from Missile, Missy

By Dave James
By Dave James

4/16/2012 6:50:00 AM -

LONDON (AFP) - In the battle for Olympic headlines, Usain Bolt faces competition from an Australian nicknamed "Missile" and a "goofball" American teenager whose first priority is a dress for her school prom.

With 100 days to go to the start of the London Games, Bolt, the defending 100m and 200m champion from Beijing, only launched his season at the low-key UTech Classic meet in Jamaica on Saturday.

But he showed no signs of rustiness, anchoring his 4x100m relay team -- which also featured world champion compatriot Yohan Blake -- to victory in a season's world-best 37.82sec.

"I'm always a bit nervous before my first race but I got through it OK and that's good," Bolt said.

"I'm always wondering if I'm still fast, even if I'm doing well in training, so it is always good to come out and run."

Blake became the youngest 100m world champion last year in South Korea but his victory lost some of its lustre after Bolt false-started out of the race.

He believes the Jamaican Olympic trials 100m final will be a major indicator of London fortunes.

"A lot of the guys are running really fast. A lot of them are going to be in the Olympics 100m final," Blake said.

"Asafa Powell, me, Usain Bolt, I think it's going to be a tough one."

The sprint kings will not hog all the limelight at the main stadium when the track and field gets underway on August 3.

Russia's Olympic polevault champion Yelena Isinbayeva, who suffered a disastrous world championship when she finished sixth, is back to her best.

Having set another new indoor world record in Stockholm to supplement her outdoors mark, she then claimed the indoor world title in Istanbul.

She has set an incredible 28 world records in her career.

In the pool, all eyes will be on 14-time gold medallist Michael Phelps, who is slowly ramping up his challenge ahead of the US trials in June.

At the recent Indianapolis Grand Prix, the American took victory in the 200m medley in 1min 56.32sec, almost two seconds faster than the season's previous top time at that stage.

Phelps added the 200m medley to the 100m butterfly and 400m medley victories he claimed earlier in the event.

If Phelps is an old hand, then Australia's James Magnussen is the new kid on the block, not that the 20-year-old, nicknamed "The Missile" is likely to suffer stagefright.

Magnussen has been criticised for his acts of verbal intimidation but his form in the pool backs him up -- his 50m and 100m freestyle double at the Australian trials was the fastest this year.

The United States has their own swimming rookie in the shape of Missy Franklin, who won't turn 17 until May.

Franklin holds the world short course and US long course records for the 200m backstroke and at last year's world championships in Shanghai she won five medals -- three gold, one silver and a bronze.

FINA, the sport's world governing body, named her their Female Swimmer for 2011.

But her first priority before the Olympics is to find a high school prom dress suitable for her 1.85-metre frame.

To her friends in Colorado, the world's top woman swimmer is just one of the girls.

"They just see me as 'Missy the goofball'," she said.

Missing from the pool will be Australia's five-time Olympic champion Ian Thorpe who failed to qualify on his return from his 2006 retirement.

France's Olympic 100m freestyle champion Alain Bernard will also be absent after he failed to qualify, having to settle for a relay spot instead.

London will also see women from 2020 hopefuls Qatar taking part for the first time.

Teenage shooter Bahia Al-Hamad, swimmer Nada Mohammed Wafa Arakji and Noor Al-Malki, a 100m and 200m sprinter, will represent the gas-rich Gulf state.

However, Gulf neighbours Saudi Arabia remain isolated after they refused to officially sanction women competitors.

South Africa has two high-profile athletes sweating on their places.

Caster Semenya, who underwent gender tests after her 2009 world championships triumph in the women's 800m, has already bettered the Olympic qualifying time.

Oscar Pistorius, who is hoping to become the first double amputee competitor at an Olympics, has also run under the qualifying mark for the 400m.

But under South African rules, athletes must record two qualifying times before June 30 to gain selection.