When the gun fired, Usain Bolt’s form in global 100m and 200m finals read: WWWW, DSQ (false start), WWWWWWWWW. Few except his seven rivals wanted it to end with an ‘L’ for loss. Bad news: it did. Time, and Justin Gatlin, who has served two drugs bans, killed the perfect send-off.
You may never see a greater anti-climax. In this one, the world champion was jeered while the darling of the global crowd was acclaimed as the hero. Gatlin won in a time of 9.92 secs, with his fellow American Christian Coleman second in 9.94secs and Bolt third (9.95secs). Frankly, it was an awful result for track and field, where a culture of forgiveness allowed Gatlin to return to professional sprinting after offences in 2001 and 2006 – and finally overcome his longstanding inability to deal with Bolt, who called the victor “a good person.”
There was no animosity down there on the track, but a Gatlin win, at 35, was an embarrassment to athletics, where there was a rash of drugs scandals after the 2012 London Olympics in this very stadium. Gatlin is by no means the only top athlete who has been given a second or third chance after pharmaceutical cheating, but his transgressions stand out in sprinting, which has led the way in conning the public.
Questions abound. Gatlin is the oldest world 100m champion, so did previous drug use help him to go on this long? Is he still benefitting now? Track and field might have escaped this inquest had Coleman been the one to end Bolt’s reign. Mr Lightning simply went on too long: encouraged perhaps by commercial incentives to race on beyond the Rio Olympics.