If there was a scriptwriter for Usain Bolt’s stellar career then, after a long string of Oscar successes, last night would have earned him a Razzie, the unofficial awards ceremony which annually selects the worst Hollywood has to offer.
In his much-hyped final individual race, Bolt was not just beaten but beaten by the villain of the piece, Justin Gatlin.
The two-time drugs cheat stormed to the world championships 100 metres title in 9.92 seconds, with the Jamaican megastar relegated to bronze in 9.95 behind another American, Christian Coleman, who took silver in 9.94. Britain’s Reece Prescod was seventh.
In stark contrast to the euphoria of Friday night’s joyous climax when Mo Farah won the 10,000m, boos rang around the London Stadium as they had all weekend for the eventual champion. The sour mood lifted somewhat as Bolt took a lap of honour with his name being chanted, but the sense of deflation lingered. Bolt warmly embraced Gatlin after the race and was keen to put a positive spin on his last hurrah in the distance he has dominated for so long.
“I never expected this, the way they have come out and supported me,” he said. “London, I really appreciate it. It didn’t end on a winning note but that’s one of these things.”
Bolt had looked shaky in the opening rounds and continued his run of poor starts in the final, leaving himself with too much to do.
“The start killed me. It usually gets better through the rounds but I couldn’t get it together,” he said.
The ageless brilliance of Roger Federer would be Bolt’s only contemporary rival, but such is the sprinter’s incandescent charisma he is more often viewed as the inheritor of Muhammad Ali’s mantle when it comes to transcendental impact.
As with politicians, the careers of boxers normally end in failure. That was the case for Ali when he was beaten on a technical knockout by Trevor Berbick, a Jamaican ironically, in 1981.
It was not a fate the world could bear to witness happening to Bolt and yet, while not in such a brutal fashion, this felt like Ivan Drago beating Rocky.
With the 4x100m still to come the roll of honour still stands at an extraordinary 11 world titles and eight Olympic. The only blots before this on an otherwise perfect global championships record since he shot to prominence in Beijing almost a decade go are the 2008 relay gold, which was stripped after team-mate Nesta Carter was found guilty of doping, and the false start disqualification at the 2011 worlds in Daegu, which saw compatriot Blake claim the 100m title. His world records of 9.58 in the 100 and 19.19 in the 200 are likely to stand for some time.
Lightning crackled in the London skies during the morning session. A portent of things to come later? Famously in the Moscow 2013 final, lightning struck at the very moment Bolt crossed the line for his second 100m world crown – redemption for the Daegu blip two years previously.
It was warm, sunny and dry come evening, with Bolt expected to produce the pyrotechnics in an electrically charged London Stadium. In this most global of cities a truly international event is taking place with more than 2,000 athletes from over 200 countries competing. The build-up, however, has focused largely on two men – Bolt and Farah, who kept his part of the bargain on opening night.
The “Del Boys” that peppered the walk from Stratford station to the stadium flogging flags – “free pand each, two for the fiver” – certainly knew where their bread was buttered with only two to choose from – the Union Flag and, or ideally for sellers both, the black, gold and green of Jamaica.
In the semi-finals the crowd witnessed Bolt go under ten seconds, something of a rare occurrence this year, but he was beaten by Coleman, who had registered the best time of 2017 going into this meet on 9.82.
Bolt got another shocking start but recovered and eased off, eyeballing the American as he followed him over the line a hundredth of a second behind on 9.98. There was a comical moment when the scoreboard initially failed to register Bolt in the placings, which he greeted with mock panic. Nobody was laughing a few hours later.