The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) biennial World Championships in London, United Kingdom, was promoted around the end of the careers of Britain’s Mo Farah and Jamaica’s Usain Bolt. Of course, given his outstanding achievements over the past nine years it was Bolt that received more of the attention. After all, it is the 100m winner that is dubbed the fastest man in the world, a title he has been carrying since winning the event in a world record performance at the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China, 2008, a short time before his 21st birthday.
Rather interestingly, it was England’s newly minted knight, Sir Mo Farah, that held fast and justified the promotional accolades he received by winning the 10,000m on the opening day of this year’s World Championships, while Bolt was handed a defeat at the hands of his nemesis, Justin Gatlin, in his pet event one day later.
The World Championships in London brings to an end two interesting careers and the media have been left with much to discuss.
The Farah case
Mo Farah has brought much to himself by way of fame. He came to the fore as much as had been the case with Ethiopia’s Haile Gebresellasie, who dominated the same two events – the 5,000m and 10,000m – for some time.
Farah’s running style was intensely different from that of Gebresellasie. Whereas the latter took to the front from the very beginning of his races and controlled them from that vantage point, Farah sauntered at the back of his races, often moving to the front only to return to what appeared to be his comfort zone at the back.
To the average sport enthusiast it was always befuddling to understand why Farah would often make it seem as though the rest of the competitors were not in his league by moving back and forth at will, almost as though there was no expected opposition in the event.
With 1500m left in the race, Farah would position himself at the front of the event and then sprint the final 600m to a runaway victory.
It was at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last year, that Farah found the Kenyans better prepared for his running style and he found the going particularly challenging.
Coming into the World Championships on Saturday last, Farah steeled himself for the expected opposition.
When the race started it was clear that Farah was well prepared. He did not do much by way of playing around. His awesome popularity was at its best with the enthusiastic crown singing and chanting for him for the entire 25 laps of the event.
There were times when he wowed the crowd into singing and chanting more vociferously, as much of an incentive to himself as it was an appeal for their support.
Farah knew the Kenyans, Ethiopians and Ugandans were very well prepared and that their race strategies were all centered around denying him yet another victory before his home crowd in his final race.
Farah was however, up to the challenge. He was not to be denied. With 800m left in the race he took control and increased his pace to match every athlete that dared to d raw up alongside, eventually leaving them all behind him in the final 200m.
To the singing and chanting of an excited and over-joyed 55,000 people in the Olympic stadium, Farah delivered one more time. He swept to an astonishing victory in one of his two pet events. He was proud and every British citizen was delighted that they had the privilege of being in the Olympic stadium one more time to witness this amazing piece of history.
Sir Mo Farah can now return to his family fully satisfied that he had served his country with distinction and pride.
In seemingly stark contrast to Mo Farah, Usain Bolt a rather different end to his sprinting career, taking home the bronze medal behind two Americans.
To be fair, Bolt seemed crassly underprepared for his final chapter.
While the media hyped Bolt’s career pathway his own preparation seemed well short of what ought to have been expected for competition at the World Championship level.
Bolt ran at his country’s National Championships and while he won his performance was unimpressive. He ran one more race again before the World Championships where he had so much at stake.
The British crowd simply adores Bolt and so they gave him all the support he would have relished. It was clearly a partisan crowd in attendance at the Championships on both days of his involvement in the 100m.
In the semifinal on the second day of the competition, a few hours before the final, Bolt went under to Coleman of the USA, who came into the event with the fastest time in the event for 2017. While some may have thought that Bolt was playing around, closer examination of the semifinal revealed that he left the blocks unusually slow, as had happened in the first heat in which he participated the previous day.
It was not as though the rest of the field was unprepared for the big man.
In the final, Bolt left the blocks very, very late and had too much to do in his underprepared state to catch up in time to retain his title. He finished a stunning third.
The fact of the matter is that Bolt is a better 200m runner than 100m. He chose to contest the 100m in his final participation in the World Championships and came to it underprepared, knowing at the same time that everyone else was gunning for him, anxious to either seek revenge or simply to dethrone him. In the end, Bolt was his own worst enemy.
It was a devastated British crowd that suddenly fell absolutely silent in the Olympic stadium when they saw the result of the race posted on the scoreboard. There was disbelief and utter consternation.
Oh! How the mighty hath fallen!
There must have been a hush all over Jamaica and anywhere the Jamaican Diaspora stopped to watch Bolt’s final race.
Much more at stake
But Bolt’s defeat goes much farther.
The defeat goes to the very core of the sport of Athletics and its future.
We must be mindful that Mo Farah has come under intense scrutiny by the international sports media because of the suspicions surrounding his elite training camp led by Alberto Salazar.
The jury seems to be still out in respect of how people really feel about the issues that have been raised in respect of the training camp. Indeed, some may say that this matter is reflective of the case of Lance Armstrong, except that in the latter case the whole truth was eventually revealed by Armstrong himself.
Justin Gatlin, the eventual winner of the 100m in London last Saturday, has been found positive on two occasions and served his suspension from the sport.
Has he been forgiven?
There is no surprise then in hearing IAAF President, Lord Sebastian Coe, quoted in The Telegraph dated Sunday 6 August, declare in the aftermath of Gatlin’s victory, “Justin Gatlin should have been banned for life after he was convicted of being a drugs cheat”.
The Sun’s headline of the same day read, “GAT-CRASH Usain Bolt sunk as drugs cheat Justin Gatlin ruins golden goodbye by storming to 100m gold”. The opening sentence continued, “American twice banned for doping shocks London 2017 as Bolt has to settle for bronze in his final individual race…”
Britain’s Sunday Express noted, “Not only was the crowd disappointed by Bolt’s defeat, but they were frustrated that Gatlin was the man to beat him.
“Gatlin is a deeply controversial figure in the sport and is seen as a two-time drug cheat because he has served two doping bans.”
The consistent boos Gatlin received every time he entered the competition arena in London last week suggests that at least British supporters of athletics have not forgiven him nor are they likely to do so any time soon.
Over the past two years Bolt has found himself speaking out on doping in the sport. During this period, he has also been seen as being the direct antithesis of Gatlin. There was no love lost between them in Beijing, China, two years ago, in both the 100m and 200m event. The signs were obvious to anyone following the sport. It was in the body language, the actual hand movements made and in some cases, comments passed.
Last year, at the Olympics in Brazil, the rivalry continued in both events. Despite clear evidence of being below par, Bolt managed to win both events with Gatlin not even qualifying for the finals of the 200m.
The athletics fraternity, spurred on by the ever-present and provocative media, all seemed to have identified Bolt with the clean athlete and Gatlin as being otherwise, despite the latter having literally ‘paid his dues, as it were. Every encounter between the two athletes since Gatlin’s return to active competition has been fed to the international sport community as a contest akin to the challenges between good and evil; between the clean athlete and the drug cheat.
When WADA called on Jamaica to clean up its act regarding the administration of its local drug-testing programme following issues raised in 2012, many kept their fingers crossed in the hope that none of the top Jamaican sprinters were in any way involved in cheating.
There were even anxious moments when it was revealed that re-tests of the one of the samples taken during the Beijing Olympics proved positive for Nesta Carter of the Jamaican 4 x 100m relay team.
Bolt was always held up as a model clean athlete.
Gatlin’s defeat of Bolt in London last week has turned the entire debate on its head. Athletics aficionados must now be wondering what happened.
Track and Field Athletics has placed its new thrust on Bolt’s success and his command of the stage across the world.
While other Jamaican athletes have been dominating their respective events none has had the global impact on the sport as Usain Bolt.
Many are now pondering just how much of an impact Bolt’s defeat at the hands of Gatlin means for the future plans that have been so carefully crafted over the past several months.
That there would be an impact there is no doubt. The bother is how far would it hinder the successful outcomes initially envisaged by the IAAF’s new and visionary leadership.
Can Bolt still become the face of the IAAF, the face of Athletics across the world, promoting the sport to peoples of all ages, hoping to bolster confidence and increased participation?
Would Bolt be able to convince young athletes that it is better to stay clean and yet benefit from the sport?
The foregoing are among the numerous lingering questions following Bolt’s demise at the hands of Justin Gatlin in London on Saturday 5 August 2017.