It should never have come to this. The perfect athlete has left his imperfect sport, in the most imperfect of ways to the least perfect athlete.
The world’s greatest sprinter, Usain Bolt, was beaten in his last race by twice banned drug cheat Justin Gatlin, his pantomime rival.
Bolt was allowed to be beaten … just not by Gatlin. The best the sport has seen should not leave that sport beaten at the last by a cheat. It was OK for him to be beaten – he was in fact, as Christian Coleman also beat him over the line – just not by someone who embodied the worst of the sport.
It should never have come to this because Gatlin – the new 100m world champion – should not have been racing. Twice banned for drugs he should have been banned for life for his cheating.
In 2001, Gatlin was banned for two years after testing positive for an amphetamine found in attention deficit disorder (ADD) medicine. That suspension was later cut to a year.
In 2005, he won the 100m world championship gold, then a year later was banned again, this time for eight years after testing positive for testosterone. The ban was halved because he co-operated with authorities.
The new IAAF head Seb Coe admitted previously to being “queasy” at the thought of an athlete who’d served serious doping bans winning gold and felt life should mean life for dopers.
Today Coe should feel sick. When he made those comments he could still rely on Bolt to deflect attention from the sport’s dirty open secret that dopers are commonplace.
This time there is no distraction or hiding from it. Gatlin, the villainous counterpoint to Bolt, has beaten him. The Roadrunner has been caught, Coyote has won.
The English crowd booed and hissed Gatlin each time he stepped on the track. Gatlin sought to be dignified and above the boos, which was quite some feat to project grace and dignity for actions that lacked both and for which there has been no remorse.
Bolt was more conciliatory.
“I told him congrats and well done,” he added. “He’s done his time over the years. Tonight he was the better man.” Ahem, faster yes, better?
Bolt was beaten by a better and faster man on the night – Christian Coleman. Bolt was beaten to the line by Gatlin and Coleman and so had to accept bronze, a colour it is doubtful he was aware medals came in.
Gatlin ran 9.92s, Coleman 9.94s and Bolt 9.95s. After a slow start the Jamaican ran out of track to fold in the two Americans.
“I’ve proved to the world I’m one of the greatest athletes,” said Bolt. “I’ve done my part as an athlete, to uplift the sport and show it’s getting better. I did my best.”
Bolt had won everything at a major meet since 2008 other than on those occasions such as in 2011 when he beat himself when he false started. He had never been beaten over this distance in an open field in a world championships or Olympics.
So that’s good bye. Usain Bolt has run his last individual race.
What does life look like after Bolt? Does the new world champion return the sport to its grubby past and to a narrative where performances were punctured like needle pricks with stories of doping and corruption.
Maybe the new king of the sport is South African long sprint champ Wayde Van Neikerk. He could yet achieve things like Bolt and so be the torch bearer of his sport.
Van Niekerk has the athletic capacity but to compare Bolt to Van Neikerk is to compare Shane Warne to Glenn McGrath. Both were great but one thrilled, entertained and transcended, the other was Glenn McGrath.
The sport will be different without Bolt because it was different before him.
The reason he will not be readily replaced is he was different from all others and that was not just about his speed.
Bolt stood above his sport.