With the summer drawing to a close and no English failure at the Euros or World Cup to discuss, this post revisits one of my highlights of this summer before it becomes a distant memory… The World Athletics Championships 2017, London.
The final time we witnessed two of the great sportsmen of our time, Usain St. Leo Bolt and Sir Mohamed Muktar Jama Farah, on the world stage.
Beaten Bolt bows out
After his success at the Rio Olympics, Bolt’s final year of competition has been a tough one as injuries have blighted his season and severely restricted his taken for granted ability to clock in sub-10 seconds. However, who would bet against Bolt, with 19 global gold medals to his name, pulling off one final stunning performance to add to his collection?
Sadly for Usain, it was not to be as Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman took gold and silver, respectively, leaving Bolt to settle for bronze.
After greeting Gatlin to his blocks with boos throughout the heats to the final, the crowd’s chorus became a crescendo as the stunned London crowd reacted vociferously once the result was apparent.
Gatlin was direct and unequivocal in his response, with the sheer emotion evident.
Despite the medal ceremony bringing a more muted level of booing, in stark contrast to the adulation received by Bolt, the crowd’s reaction led to a tetchy, confrontational discussion on the BBC’s coverage between Michael Johnson and Steve Cram.
Gatlin (fairly?) booed
Johnson is correct that much of the narrative has seen Gatlin cast as the chief villain of the athletics world, however does Gatlin not deserve the greater scrutiny and scepticism following his return after two failed drug tests?
To my mind, yes. For two main reasons, Gatlin’s background and the competition.
The boos were not directed towards Gatlin’s performance that evening or to him on a personal level, rather reaction was against his history, what that represents and the doubts over whether he is ‘clean’.
The 100m has long been the pinnacle of athletics and for the winner of athletics’ showpiece event to have such a chequered past is evidently not good for the sports’ image.
Whilst sympathy for Gatlin may be found through the principles of redemption and second chances, the reaction of the crowd was a purely instinctive reaction to his victory.
Just as Lance Armstrong is the face of doping for cycling (regardless of the countless other dopers), Gatlin is, at the moment, the face of doping in athletics (regardless of the countless other dopers). It comes with the territory.
Sir Mo, unbeaten over 5,000 and 10,000m since 2011 and recently marred by the release of testing data by the Fancy Bears hacking group (and subsequently cleared by the IAAF), was seeking a victorious send off in front of the passionate home support before swapping the track for marathons.
The opening night of the Championships saw Farah produce a thrilling run in the 10,000m, including a couple of near trips, to control the race with his trademark tactics – keep tabs on the front runners as the laps fly by, move to the front with a few laps to go and back his kick to get home.
Farah was edged out of an absorbing 5,000m race in the face of a fantastically executed and impressive team effort by the Ethiopians resulting in Edris taking Farah’s golden crown with the Englishman settling for silver.
The imperfect ending
As Bolt pulled up lame in the 4x100m relay and Farah was beaten for the first time in 6 years, the fairytale ending was emphatically squashed. Athletics has lost two of its greatest performers, ambassadors and characters who have helped to transcend their sport.
Some big spikes to fill…