Apologies to Usain Bolt
We underestimated the heart and quality of a champion. That was the mistake that the majority in the track and field world made, myself included, leading into the Beijing World Championships.
For that underestimation, apologies are in order to the big man, who is easily, not just the greatest sprinter of all time, but, arguably, the greatest sportsman of all time.
Bolt never needed that victory over the previously imperious American, Justin Gatlin, in the 100 metres event in Beijing to confirm that status. But it was, indeed, a timely reminder of just how great an athlete Usain Bolt really is.
The dynamics surrounding the build-up to this race are well documented and made that victory perhaps, the greatest of Bolt's decorated career. Bolt was not just being asked to defend his title, but to save the sport, to right the wrongs, and to correct some of the administrative shortcomings of the sport.
He was mandated to do the 'dirty work" of ensuring that the double-convicted drug cheat, Justin Gatlin, did not become the face of the sport. The pressure must have been immense, but the big man responded like a true champion, as the entire world breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Leading into the World Championships, all the indicators were, indeed, pointing to a Gatlin win. The American was unbeaten in 27 sprint races across two seasons. In contrast, Bolt was ordinary over the same period.
Gatlin was, obviously, the man to beat up the start of that final. If all the circumstances leading into these championships should arise again, I would set emotions aside and probably make the same call. There is absolutely no shame in getting a prediction wrong, courtesy of this calibre of greatness by Bolt.
His innate superiority as a sprinter was never in question. What was in doubt was him getting into championship, winning shape in limited time, relative to Justin Gatlin's flying form. Neither was it a matter of the big Jamaican being able to cope with the pressure of the moment.
Even after his slip in the semi-final and his overall unimpressive sprinting up to the final, compared to Gatlin's conspicuously immaculate preliminary run in the rounds, in what must be a true index of his greatness, Bolt never seemed troubled.
To the other mere mortals, the increased pressure would have likely taken a toll, but the undisputed 'world boss' of sprinting was not the one who buckled in the final. Instead, Gatlin was the one who fell apart technically. While Bolt ran his race, the American champion, crumbled and ended up over-striding and tying up as the big Jamaican calmly took home the bacon.
Admittedly, this was one prediction I didn't mind getting wrong. I never wished or hoped that Bolt would lose to Gatlin. The form books and logical analysis were pointing squarely in that direction. The form book, however, did not measure the heart, desire, competitiveness, and the champion mentality of Bolt.
The build-up and the spectacle of the race itself were great for the sport of athletics. Bolt's rivalry with Gatlin, with all the peripheral ingredients, provided good seasoning for the athletics pot.
Despite all the whispers and loud shouts of disapproval, Gatlin's presence in the sport has helped its visibility. Gatlin the villain was a major character in writing this latest chapter in the book on the greatness of Usain Bolt.
In the eyes of the world, good prevailed over evil this time around. For now, the issue is settled and the ARGUMENT DONE.