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I write just 48 hours beyond the World Athletics Championships. Ten days of intense competition at London’s former Olympic Stadium. Commentators were overwhelmed with the success of the event, as the crowd showed huge enthusiasm and there were performances to treasure. New stars emerged, and the entertainment value was high. Already they talk of the Championships returning to London.. and soon.
There were some curiosities, several of which concerned the steeplechase water jump. We had the runner who missed the obstacle entirely: running right past it on the outside, only to realise her mistake and have to hurry back and, this time, clamber over. We had another athlete who tripped on the top of the hurdle and dived headfirst into the 70cm of water on the landing side (oougghh!). And finally, there was Hero the ubiquitous hedgehog mascot of the games, who tried to walk along the barrier, but slipped and did the splits in landing abruptly on the top (ouch! That really hurt!.. and must have brought tears to his, or her, eyes).
Above all, though, this was the week of Mo Farah and Usain Bolt, two all-time greats of the sport who had announced that this was to be their retirement from competitive track athletics. Neither was quite at their former imperious best - though I thought Mo was mightily impressive - but time catches up with us all, and at 34 and 30 respectively these two had each given us a decade of excitement and achievement. Two tremendous athletes, whose careers have nearly coincided; each with a trademark celebratory move - the ‘M’ on your head, ‘Mobot’; and Bolt’s ‘To Di World’ gesture. I recall them each performing the other’s pose at the London Olympics, in affectionate tribute to their long friendship.
Mo goes down as Britain’s greatest ever athlete: gutsy, determined, race-wise, with a remarkable sustained pace over the final 500m of each race. A winner. It is sad that a man who came to Britain at the age of just seven, and has lived here proudly since, should have been treated badly by bloggers questioning his right to wear a British vest. And then there is Usain Bolt, perhaps the greatest athlete of all, in this or any past era. A man with a string of gold medals, world records, and a personality to-boot, that just goes on giving.
His popularity was undimmed by the events of this past week, but his public were saddened by a ‘mere’ bronze medal in his 100m, and by Usain pulling up injured in his final appearance in the relay. There was outrage, though, that in his solo race not only had our hero fallen short; but also, when it was seen that as the dust cleared the gold medal had passed to Justin Gatlin, a two-time drug cheat and all-round villain of the sport. Horror and booing for Gatlin; sustained focus and admiration for the man who finished third.
What marked, again, Bolt’s greatness for me, was the ease and goodwill with which he embraced his nemesis, the 35 year old American sprinter, and congratulated him. And give credit that Gatlin similarly, in winning, bowed in homage to the great man Bolt, who had this time finished third.
Courtesy in trying circumstances. Unexpected graciousness. Generosity in defeat.
Now that Mo and Usain have exited the stadium door, I hope the memory of their greatness lives on. They have graced our stadia and screens for ten whole years, and may we who have watched never lose our sense of wonder and delight.
Now where did I put my running spikes?