Sporting Advent Calendar #15: Usain Bolt ensures good wins over evil
After returning from two doping offences Justin Gatlin went up against Usain Bolt
Usain Bolt performs his signature pose with his gold medal after beating Justin Gatlin at the World Championships. Photo: Getty Images
It was billed - some say nauseatingly so - as the race between good and evil. It was won by Usain Bolt, and while at the time anyway it also felt like a victory for the entire sport of athletics, rarely has 100 metres of running added up to so much more than the sum of its parts.
Rarely has 9.79 seconds felt like such an eternity, either, and even if Usain had run faster, never did he need to run so hard, for so long.
Because inside Beijing’s steamy Bird’s Nest, at the end of August, they lined up for the final of the men’s 100 metres with more than just a World Championship title at stake: it was the race to save the face of the sport - only temporarily, as things turned out - and so the entire athletics world was holding its collective breath.
That’s because the man Bolt needed to beat was the American Justin Gatlin, now apparently dominant in the event in recent years, having returned from two doping offences in 2011: So, and whatever about Bolt being the hero and Gatlin the villain, it promised to be spectacularly close.
And so it proved - Bolt running flat out all the way to the finish line, before hurling himself over it. It was among the most perfectly necessary executions of the event ever seen. When it came down to it, it wasn’t just Bolt’s speed that won it for him, but clearly his own belief, too.
Gatlin, as both his heats and semi-final suggested he would, stole an advantage from the starting blocks. He was up on Bolt at 50 metres and after that Bolt had to pull hard on every one of his enormous strides just to get level. Only in the final few metres, as Gatlin suddenly wilted, did Bolt get his big broad chest in front. Gatlin was timed at 9.80, behind Bolt’s season best of 9.79.
“I definitely think this was my hardest race,” Bolt admitted. “I’ve been through a lot this season, and it’s been rough. Coming back from injury I’ve had a lot of doubters, it’s been a tough road, so for me to come to the championships and defend my title is a good feeling.”
Had Gatlin won, the American with two previous doping convictions and seemingly no remorse whatsoever for his shadowy past, it’s hard to know how anyone could have celebrated it.
Then, later in the week, there was a reprise, only this time it wasn’t just another shootout between hero and villain: there was a near massacre after Bolt won the 200m title, as he taken out by a cameraman during his victory lap.
Yet not even that could stop Bolt. The big Jamaican simply rolled back on himself, recovering magnificently, before promptly resuming his victory lap. Much to the relief of everyone inside the Bird’s Nest. The man billed as the saviour of athletics appeared invincible in every sense.
The sport itself, however, would face far bigger battles before the year was out.