It had long been billed as sport’s ultimate morality tale when a saint lined up against a devil in the battle for supremacy. Who would win? Can one man rescue his sport from the jaws of disaster? You can almost hear the world of athletics heave a collective sigh of relief after the universally-loved Jamaican, reigning world and Olympic 100m champion Usain Bolt triumphed against drugs cheat and pantomime villain American Justin Gatlin.
The BBC veteran boxing and athletics commentator Mike Costelloe hailed Bolt as a hero. He exclaimed: “Bolt to the rescue. The hero has beaten the villain.” Another BBC commentator and former distance runner Steve Cram cried in relief as Bolt edged past Gatlin in one-hundredth of a second in 9.79 secs: “He’s saved his title, he’s saved his reputation. He may have even saved his sport.” The world now sees Bolt as the saviour of a much-maligned sport to the chagrin of Gatlin who is reportedly shunning anyone from the British media who he blames for his constant vilification.
Could the viewing public ever believe what they see? Aren’t they all up to their eyeballs in the illegal stuff? Even newly-elected IAAF President Seb Coe declared he was ‘queasy’ with the realisation Gatlin, who has served two drugs ban could win the blue ribband event at the Beijing showcase of athletics against the thoroughly good egg, Bolt. Social commentator Simon Jenkins weighed in arguing there should be two races; one for clean athletes and another for the dopers. Some sports commentators even drew parallels between 1974’s Ali versus Foreman in the epic boxing bout christened Rumble in the Jungle in Zaire predicting it would be the final confirmation that a sport perennially mired in doping allegations and cover-ups was beyond redemption.
All summer, the bad news about athletics and its doping problem had been unrelenting thanks to a data cache unearthed by Sunday Times’ Insight team and German broadcaster ARD/WDR which hinted at widespread doping by elite athletes and cover-ups by its governing body. The scale of the problem was evident even at the 100m final starting blocks. Lining up against Bolt were four pardoned doping cheats including Gatlin.
Bolt the Saviour
Hence Bolt breasting the tape ahead of Gatlin in a photo-finish enters the annals of sporting contests for its symbolism. The few blistering seconds that good did eventually triumph over evil. It was reminiscent of the Ben Johnson saga all over again. The Canadian was widely regarded as the villain who brought shame and opprobrium on athletics.
Gatlin had seemed unassailable over 100m all summer posting five sub-ten finishes while Bolt had misfired all season-long. He even stumbled in the semis recovering later in his heat. It was destined to be the ‘look away now’ moment when viewers, too dismayed to watch Gatlin’s romp, and almost certain chest-thumping celebrations had dreaded. But Bolt saved the day. Or postponed the day of reckoning.
Anatomy of a Drugs Cheat