Usain Bolt and Mo Farah returned to London’s Olympic Stadium yesterday evening to silence their critics with a pair of impressive performances at the IAAF Diamond League Anniversary Games reports Shingi Mararike
[dropcap]A[/dropcap] lot can change in three years. Thirty six months ago, under the lights of The Olympic Stadium, amidst thousands of exploding flashbulbs, Mo Farah and Usain Bolt basked in the glow of success. A pair of Olympic champions lauded as legends in their own right; the duo celebrated together. With medals slung around their necks and smiles plastered on their faces, Bolt and Farah collaborated for one of the most iconic moments in Olympic history. The British long distance star struck Bolt’s famous “lightening bolt” pose and the Jamaican returned the favour, snatching Farah’s much less flamboyant, equally iconic “Mo-Bot” to the delight of 80,000 onlookers.
As the focus of the sporting world moved away from Stratford’s Olympic Park and into the less glamorous backwaters of world athletics, things would get murky for Bolt and Farah. The Jamaican’s moniker as the fastest man on earth has come under threat like never before. Much maligned former drugs cheat Justin Gatlin has quite literally chased Bolt away from the top table of world athletics, proceeding to dominate the sprints. He defeated Bolt at a 2013 Diamond League meet in Rome and hasn’t looked back since, annihilating every athlete in his path from gun to tape. The 33 year old American is riding an unstoppable wave of momentum: 26 victories in a row and the 6 fastest times in the world last season. Gatlin has shown no sign of slowing down this year either; he powered his way to a personal best of 9.74 seconds in Doha earlier in the year, proceeding to lay down the gauntlet. He’s in the shape of his life headed into his much anticipated showdown with Bolt next month at the Athletics World Championships in Beijing. Whilst Gatlin went from strength to strength, relishing his role as a super villain, persona non grata, Bolt our knight in shining armour disappeared. The Jamaican’s 2014 was disappointing, hampered by injuries, he’s watched his kingdom come under threat and instead of strike back like we all expected him to in 2015 he faltered. Prior to yesterday evening he’d run one 100 metre race the entire year, a paltry 10.12 in Copacabana, placing him 62nd in the world.
Farah has also had his demons to deal with and doubters to battle- be those off the track rather than on it. The happy go-lucky Brit adopted as the face of Quorn and Weetabix following his Olympic triumphs has seen his season marred by a drugs scandal surrounding his coach Alberto Salazar. A BBC Panorama documentary aired in June saw the American, head coach at the famous Nike Oregon Project accused of violating a number of anti-doping regulations, including accusations of doping Farah’s training partner and 10,000 metre silver medallist Galen Rupp. As the black cloud of suspicion moved in, the famous Farah smile disappeared, replaced by a sullen glower- the legitimacy of his greatest triumphs was now being brought into question. Surely our Mo wasn’t doping? Days later an “emotionally drained” Farah called a news conference prior to a Diamond League meet in Birmingham, pulling out of the event before assuring the assorted press he would travel to America and seek answers from his under fire coach as soon as possible.
As the focus of the sporting world moved away from Stratford’s Olympic Park and into the less glamorous backwaters of world athletics, things would get murky for Bolt and Farah.
It’s safe to say both Bolt and Farah have enjoyed better days, indeed better seasons at that. In the space of three years they’ve gone from undisputed champions to a pair of athletes dogged by doubters. Perhaps a return to the scene of their greatest triumphs would provide a much needed tonic and erase the troubles of recent times.
The Jamaican took to the track first for the 100 metre heats. As his clash with Gatlin at The World Championships draws ever closer Bolt knew he needed to make a statement. Lining up in a heat that featured highly regarded Brits James Dasaolu and Chijendu Ujah, Bolt overcame a sluggish start to accelerate past American Mike Rodgers and cross the line first in an impossibly relaxed 9.87 seconds- his season’s best. Evoking memories of old, the Jamaican dipped under 10 seconds effortlessly. The strut was back, the aura had returned.
As the final approached, the anticipation in the stadium was palpable. If Bolt could break the 10 second barrier with a mere jog, what did he have in store later that evening? The answer was not much more. In wet conditions running into a headwind anything but conducive to sprinting blistering times, Bolt once again had to overcome a horrific start and put his foot down in the later stages of the race. He held off Rodgers once more with his compatriot Kemar Bailey-Cole in third to clock 9.87 for a second straight race. Bolt’s two runs were far from his otherworldly best, but we did see flashes of the form that saw him smash the 100 and 200 metre records whilst redefining the world’s perception of what it means to run fast. Mission accomplished. Game on. Bolt has three weeks to work on that start and polish those rangy strides in preparation to face down Gatlin. If he finds a way to emerge victorious in Beijing when the smoke clears, yesterday evening will be the moment he fondly remembers recovering his form.
With Bolt having successfully chased his doubters into the shadows, Farah was up next. If the Londoner was anxious about his reception following a tumultuous few months, his fears were eased instantly. Farah walked out into the arena to one of the loudest ovations of the night before producing a spectacular 3,000 metre race. He seized control with 1000 metres to go after trading the lead with Ethiopia’s Yenew Alamirew and blitzed the field with a classic Farah final lap burst. He crossed the line in a world leading time of 7 minutes 34 seconds, demonstrating the unique combination of raw sprint speed and endurance that saw him claim both the 5,000 and 10,000 metre gold medals in London 2012.
Who knows? In 3 weeks in Beijing we could get another Mo-Bot-Lightening Bolt photo call.
Following the race the 32 year old said “you can only do what you do best. For me, that is running.” That statement rings true for both Bolt and Farah. The best way to silence demons? To vanquish spectres that hang over your head? Run fast. Who knows? In 3 weeks in Beijing we could get another Mo-Bot-Lightening Bolt photo call. Following a bitter year for both, that would be sweet.