World Championships: When Bolt went bust

The London Worlds’ enduring image will be of Usain Bolt limping away into the sunset. For the man who had collectively taken no more than four minutes for his clutch of sprint doubles, the imposing Jamaican’s exit from the world stage was excruciating.

A legend falls... a combination of pictures shows Jamaica’s Usain Bolt pulling up injured and rolling on the track in the men’s 4x100m relay at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.   -  AFP

London may have been a let-down for many; it was an anti-climax for athletics. The 2017 IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) World Championships’ enduring image will be of a legend limping away into the sunset.

Sprint superman Usain Bolt was upstaged by Justin Gatlin in the men’s 100-metre dash, and then was hampered by a hamstring injury in the 4x100m relay. Sadly, he was nowhere near ‘unbeatable and unstoppable,’ that he’d set out to be on the eve of the championships.

For the man who had collectively taken no more than four minutes for his clutch of sprint doubles, the imposing Jamaican’s exit from the world stage was excruciating, if not slow. Sprint’s latter-day colossus vowed he’d never return to the track, his legacy of ecstasy ending in agony, as he trudged around the packed arena in one last lap of honour.

The opening Friday (August 4) night was like no other for Sir Mo Farah (short for Mohamed Muktar Jama Farah). Warding off a concerted threat from opponents ranged against him, the 34-year-old pulled off an incredible hat-trick of 10,000m gold medals at the London Stadium. Egged on by a partisan crowd, it was a replay of that Super Saturday, when the Somalia-born strongman claimed the crown in the London Olympics five years ago.

Mo Farah of Great Britain celebrates with his son, Hussein Farah, after winning the 10,000m gold.   -  Getty Images

 

The beanpole Briton breasted the tape in 26:49.51s, the second fastest in the championship’s history. In his wake was Uganda’s world under-20 champion Joshua Cheptegei with 26:49.94, and checking in third was Kenyan Olympic silver medallist Paul Kipngetich Tanui (26:50.60s).

For the seasoned distance runner aiming for his 10th track gold, this race was no cakewalk though, despite a seven-year reign. For the first time ever, seven athletes returned sub-27-minute timings. Halfway through, Farah was lying 11th, and four-fifth of the way, he was still fifth, as the lead changed hands frequently.

“It was one of the toughest races of my life. The guys really gave it to me. It was all about how do you beat Mo. You had the Kenyans, the Ethiopians, the Ugandans all working as a team against me. Fairplay to them, they worked it hard,” said Farah, who crossed the line, arms akimbo and wide-eyed in euphoria.

“I just had to stay strong, believe in myself and realise that I didn’t work for nothing and I’m not losing in my home town. In the middle of the race, I didn’t think I was going to lose, but I did think that it was really tough.

“I knew at 12 laps to go when they went hard from there, I knew it was going to be tough. It was about believing in my sprint finish and knowing that I have been in that position before. It helped a lot having the experience. Anything is possible if you train hard. It was perfect tonight,” Farah said, signing off in style.

Another swansong, which had several million eyeballs glued to it across the globe, turned more than sour on Saturday (August 5) night. Mr. Lightning was yet again tipped to ‘bolt’ with the title of ‘the fastest man on the planet’. It was not to be, as Gatlin stole the thunder, with fellow University of Tennessee mate Christian Coleman coming in second and the towering Jamaican logging in third.

Booed by crowds unforgiving for unseating their favourite, the victor bowed to the vanquished, as if the king hailed the emperor, in a spontaneous show of deference. So were the spectators, only too aware that Gatlin, 35, the oldest to win the sprint, had served two bans for doping offences.

“I’m not eulogistic that someone who has served two bans has walked off with one of our glittering prizes. But he is eligible to be here,” the IAAF president, Sebastian Coe, told BBC.

“It’s not the perfect script. I thought Usain was very generous with the observations he made. That must have been a bitter event for him to swallow. He was bigger than the moment and it typifies his career,” Lord Coe said in tribute.

If Farah, whose roots lie in poverty-stricken Africa, was brilliant in the men’s section, on the distaff side it was Almaz Ayana of Ethiopia, another famine-ridden nation, who was outstanding. Following a season of poor health and illness, the Olympic champion broke away from the rest of the field to wrest the women’s 10,000m crown in 30:16.32s. That team-mate Tirunesh Dibaba finished 46 seconds behind Ayana for the silver only underscored the whopping margin of the conquest, by far the biggest in the championship’s history.

In contrast, the smallest margin of victory was posted in the men’s discus. Lithuania’s Andrius Gudzius clinched the gold with a heave of 69.21m, just two centimetres ahead of Sweden’s Daniel Stahl.

 Torie Bowie stooped to conquer, the thickness of her vest proving decisive as she pipped the competition to the post in the women’s 100m. The American, who finished second at the Rio Olympics and third in the earlier Games, thudded onto the track after staving off Ivory Coast’s Marie-Josee Ta Lou by just one-hundredth of a second, timing 10.85s.

Tom Walsh, the bronze medallist in shot put at the Rio Olympics, heaved the iron sphere to 22.03m to fetch New Zealand its first ever men’s medal in a World Championship. American Olympic champion Ryan Crouser slipped to sixth.

Africa’s writ ran large over the most gruelling event — the marathon. Kenya-born Rose Chelimo, who became a Bahrain citizen, claimed the women’s title in 2:27.11s, beating back Edna Kiplagat, incidentally from the same east African nation, over a central London course. Geoffrey Kirui timed 2:08.27s to clinch the fifth title for Kenya in the men’s long distance challenge that opened and closed at the Tower Bridge, as he successfully separated himself from Ethiopia’s silver medallist Tamirat Tola.

Omar McLeod erased somewhat the sadness of defeat for compatriots Usain Bolt and Elaine Thompson in the men’s and women’s 100m. He waltzed to victory, earning Jamaica its first ever men’s 110m hurdles gold in 13.04s.

“This one is special. There was a lot of pressure coming in,” McLeod said. “It’s totally different to last year where we had Usain and Elaine winning, which I used to propel me. I didn’t have that this time, so I really wanted to come out and shine my own light.”

Ramil Guliyev clinched Turkey’s first ever gold in the tightest men’s 200m final in 30 years. The proverbial hair’s breadth, 0.02s, separated the top three. A similar verdict secured victory for American Calvin Smith in 1987. Azerbaijan-born Guliyev had ‘dipped’ in ahead of South Africa’s 400m winner Wayde van Niekerk and Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago in that order.

Poland’s Pawel Fajdek, with a hurl of 79.81m in the men’s hammer throw, clinched his third gold to replicate his 2013 and 2015 triumphs. “I waited for this competition at this stadium for five years. So it was very important for me to get this revenge for the Olympics in here,” said the bespectacled Pole, who had failed to make the final of the 2012 Games.

Mo Farah’s quest for a fifth successive global golden double in the 5,000m and 10,000m was derailed by Muktar Edris. Farah, the 10,000m champ, had to settle for silver, as the 23-year-old Ethiopian, a former world junior champion, romped to victory in the 5000m in 13.32.79s.

The British quartet of C. J. Ujah, Adam Gemili, Danny Talbot and Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake timed 37.47s to win the men’s 4x100m gold, ahead of the USA (silver) and Japan (bronze).

The United States women’s 4x100m relay team that won the gold (from left): Allyson Felix, Phyllis Francis, Shakima Wimbley and Quanera Hayes. It was World Championship gold medal No. 10 for Felix.   -  AP

Allyson Felix became the World Championships’ most successful athlete ever with 15 medals. In the overall tally, she had one more than Bolt’s 14 but was one short on gold, the Jamaican giant garnering 11 against Felix’s 10.

The American reached double figures with her collection of the precious metal when she ran a leg in the women’s sprint relay, anchored by 100m champion Bowie. Clocking 41.82s, the ‘fab four’ left behind Britain for silver and Jamaica for bronze.

The 16th edition of the meet that had 2200 athletes from 203 nations set a Guinness World Record: 705000 tickets were sold at the 10-day championship!