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Jamaica's superstar sprinter comes in third to an old, unloved rival in his final race
Published on August 8, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

Usain Bolt, captured on the big screen at BT London Live in Hyde Park. Photo by Citizen59, CC BY-SA 2.0

LONDON, England -- After the excitement of his final race on Jamaican soil at Kingston's National Stadium, Jamaicans at home and abroad were filled with nervous anticipation – and a sense of celebration – as their adored champion sprinter Usain Bolt entered the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, London on August 5, 2017, to compete in his final 100 meter race in the IAAF World Championships.

The result was not what many expected, and feelings were extremely mixed. Justin Gatlin pulled off a surprising win with a season's-best time of 9.92 seconds, and fellow US sprinter Christian Coleman clinched the silver medal, leaving Bolt with the bronze.

Great expectations

This race was preceded by several days of heightened expectations on Jamaica's always vibrant social media. Several leading Twitter users took off for London to show their support in person, and shared their excitement.

While they enjoyed other athletes’ performances, Bolt's race remained the “main event” of the championships.

Mixed emotions

Emotions ran high as the result of the race sank in. Bolt placing third, behind upcoming young American sprinter Christian Coleman and Bolt's fierce rival over a number of years Justin Gatlin – the American who had failed drug tests not once, but twice – was a lot to for some fans to process. Gatlin is generally unpopular among Jamaicans, as much for his perceived arrogance as for his cheating. Bolt's erstwhile Jamaican training partner, Yohan Blake, ran a disappointing fourth.

One young Jamaican suggested: “Gatlin better gwaan home before them test him.”

Others, reflecting on Bolt's admirable personal qualities, praised his humility and lack of macho posturing: “Usain St Leo Bolt gives us one last lesson. Never in the face of one defeat lose sight of who you are. Like an elder statesman he remembers the crowd came to bid him goodbye and he shows his respects. No tantrums. No drama. Just take a bow and flash di pose -To Di Werl G.O.A.T!”

Businessman Wayne Chen was proud of Bolt's dignity: “Our Bolt, gracious in defeat, embraces Gatlin. The fairy tale ending was not to be, but the Legend is secure.”

Commentator Mark Wignall confessed to extreme pre-race nerves, observing:

“Usain Bolt! A King is deposed but the Global Icon lives forever. I must confess that I had doubts… I was hiding from seeing the race. The first place I went to had TV so I left. Eventually I found a place with only a radio blaring some hardcore dancehall music. I felt safe. Secure from hearing the race. Two guys I knew passed by. I said to them, ‘I am nervous, bout Bolt.’ ‘Nervous? Bolt can't lose,’ one said.

“At 3:45 the radio station switched into the race. No one in the world hides from Usain Bolt. His bronze medal proves his humanity. He was, after all, not a machine, a cyborg or something made up in a lab. He was just our own homegrown son of the soil who made it to the top in a manner that has never before been seen. It is highly unlikely that those of us living now will ever see the likes of him again.

“He was, in the end, a human being just like us but, his exploits on the global stage made us feel so much better about ourselves. He took all of us to the stars! Him alone! Him one! Thank you, Dr Usain Bolt. Your name is etched in the cosmos.”

Although Bolt – as most athletics fans have come to expect – did not clinch the gold this time, the fact remains that he did win a medal. Some people attributed his final performance to the personal challenges Bolt faced this year – especially the death of one of his best friends, athlete Germaine Mason, in a motorcycle crash.

Criticism for Gatlin

However strongly they felt, Jamaican fans were slightly shocked at one BBC headline, which read, “Drugs cheat Justin Gatlin beats Usain Bolt in the 100m. Is this a bad day for Athletics?” Still, some thought it hit the nail on the head.

Bolt's sportsmanlike behaviour after Gatlin's win – when he immediately embraced Gatlin, then went on an extensive tour of the stadium, posing for dozens of selfies and hugging friends, family and fans – earned the Jamaicans icon great praise and admiration. Bolt's natural charm and friendly demeanour (minus the swaggering of some of his competitors) once again endeared him to all.

In an interesting postscript, award-winning sports blogger Zaheer Clarke shared a 2015 post, suggesting that Gatlin, even more than Bolt, had helped keep track athletics in the public eye, with the controversial comment: “Gatlin's redemption is complete.”

The Greatest Of All Time

In the end, a more philosophical, grateful emotion prevailed as Jamaicans realised there will never be another Usain Bolt.

Ultimately, Bolt was easily forgiven for not winning gold with ease – something to which Jamaicans had become accustomed.

It seems that the rest of the world agreed:

This article written by Emma Lewis originally appeared on Global Voices on August 6, 2017
Reads: 6651

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