Justin Gatlin tore up Usain Bolt’s farewell script as he stole world 100m gold with the run of his long and controversial career. Bolt was left with only a bronze in his final individual 100m race as 21-year-old Christian Coleman made it a USA one-two.
The 35-year-old Gatlin, twice banned for doping, came through almost unnoticed in lane seven in 9.92 seconds, with Coleman’s 9.94 holding off the greatest sprinter of all time.
Despite struggling for fitness and form in his valedictory season, Bolt had still been favourite to secure his 20th global gold.
It was supposed to be Gatlin’s year in 2015, when the American went to the World Championships in Beijing on the back of a 28-race unbeaten run. Bolt produced his great miracle to beat him that night in the Bird’s Nest, but in the stadium where he won 100m Olympic gold in 2012, he could not provide the perfect ending to a perfect career.
Gatlin, double Olympic champion in Athens in 2004, had been booed every time he went to his blocks at these championships, his doping past making him the cartoon villain of a troubled sport.
He was to have his revenge in spectacular style, standing tall and putting a furious finger to his lips as his win stunned the capacity crowd. That crowd took a little revenge of its own, chanting, “Usain Bolt! Usain Bolt!” as the result began to sink in.
But this was a deserved victory in its execution if not its formation, a last hurrah for a man that many in the sport wished no longer had the chance to compete.
After the race Gatlin said: “I tuned out the booing through the rounds and stayed the course. I did what I had to do. The people who love me are here cheering for me and cheering at home.
“It is Bolt’s last race. It is an amazing occasion. We are rivals on the track but in the warm-down area, we joke and have a good time. The first thing he did was congratulate me and say that I didn’t deserve the boos. He is an inspiration.”
On his part, Bolt remarked: “I tightened up at the end and that is something you should never do. I didn’t execute when it mattered. I am not fully comfortable in those blocks but you have to work with what you have. I can’t complain about that.
“He (Gatlin) is a great competitor. You have to be at your best against him. I really appreciate competing against him and he is a good person.”
Gatlin last won a major individual title in 2005 and had only beaten Bolt once before.
The BBC’s Mike Costello opined: “This will be really difficult for the sport. Russia has been expelled indefinitely from the sport, but Gatlin has been banned twice and here he is winning gold in the most precious event in the sport. The crowd perhaps ought to be booing the IAAF rather than the athletes.”
Four-time Olympic champion Michael Johnson also had his say: “I thought Bolt would be challenged by Coleman not by Gatlin. Bolt was under pressure. He has never really had a great start. He wasn’t able to close the gap.
“He is grimacing and that is something we have not seen before. You will not find that look in all the archives of Usain Bolt.”