He won in 2009 in Berlin dismantling a strong field and obliterating his own world record set a year earlier in Beijing with a new mark of 9.58. In 2011 he false-started when seemingly poised to retain his title in the South Korean city of Daegu. In 2013 normal service was restored as he won his 2nd world title without much drama. Amid lingering doubts and questions surrounding his form and fitness, the IAAF’s poster boy who celebrated his 29th birthday on Friday returned to Beijing for the 15th edition of Track and Field’s showpiece event.
The script for the 100m finals at the 2015 IAAF World Championships was written as the ultimate showdown between Track and Field’s lovable leading man Usain Bolt and its much maligned villain Justin Gatlin. The final scene of the blockbuster was a well kept secret with many predicting the demise of Bolt after the rampaging exploits of Gatlin. The lanky Jamaican had in the eyes of many lost his aura of invincibility first carved in the picturesque Bird’s Nest Stadium in 2008 after a season marked by relative inactivity and niggling injuries.
He looked vulnerable and after the semi-finals the whispers regarding the end of his dynasty had got much louder. A near stumble just after the start did not help as he was forced to run hard to win his semi-final in a blanket finish. His main rival on the other hand, had not lost a race over 100m or 200m since being beaten by the triple world record holder in the finals of the IAAF World Championships in Moscow just over 2 years ago.
A pumped up Gatlin had been sizzling all season, brushing aside the best the world had to offer with consummate ease and throwing down the gauntlet with a fast 9.77 seconds in his semi-final, the 5th time this season he was registering a time below 9.80 seconds. It seemed like it was his race to lose, the ridicule of many providing more fuel to his already super charged quest to be the best.
Bolt was seeking to accomplish the unprecedented, win a third 100m world title, one that would see him break the Gold medal and overall medals deadlock with another American, Carl Lewis. The defending champion was expected to face the toughest challenge of his illustrious career and he
did. The thousands gathered in the Beijing Stadium and millions worldwide knew what was at stake.
Many, including the newly elected IAAF President Sebastian Coe collectively held their breaths in what promised to be a signature moment in the history of track and field. A win by Gatlin seemed the most likely outcome, a result many feared and were counting on Bolt to deny. The crowd in the Bird’s Nest Stadium gave him a thunderous applause, one befitting of his iconic status, perhaps much louder than the reception given to the Chinese sprint hero who made the finals.
The man seen by many as the saving face of a tarnished sport relishes a challenge and delivered another scene stealing performance. No records were shattered, there was no daylight between himself and Gatlin but it was in the minds of many, one of the truly special performances by a man whose highlight reel is filled with breath-taking exploits. Gatlin, who has seldom had company in his races this season, felt Bolt’s presence from the off and try as he might, could not shake the man many predicted he would have reduced to an also ran.
It was this presence and the reputation of the legend that is Bolt which caused the confident, if not cocky American to lose stride and his composure in the latter half of the race. A desperate Gatlin was begging for the line, his form more resembling a man who hated water learning to swim than the all conquering sprinter who had threatened to bring Bolt’s extraordinary dominance to an end.
The margin of victory might have been a minuscule .01 seconds but for Bolt, his legions of adoring fans and the upper hierarchy of the sports governing body, it was .01 seconds that restored some credibility to an ailing cause. The Jamaican showed in 9.79 seconds that he was the author of this script and therefore controlled the ending. Yes, it was his slowest ever Championship winning time and his narrowest margin of victory with Gatlin finishing second in 9.80 seconds but that did not matter, his empire was
still intact and emphatically so.
The other storyline in the blue ribband event was the possible emergence of the next generation of sprinters. Trayvon Bromell of the USA and Andre De Grasse of Canada who have had a battle royal on the collegiate circuit with the Canadian holding the advantage in finals, could not be separated by the cameras. They stopped the clock in 9.92 seconds to tie for the Bronze medal.
It was a personal best for De Grasse who a few weeks ago won the sprint double at the Pan American Games. Mike Rodgers was 5th in 9.94 seconds ahead of a trio of athletes who ran 10.00 seconds flat. The 2007 champion was given 6th over two time Bronze medalist Asafa Powell in 7th with Jimmy Vicaut in 8th.