Justin Gatlin’s win in 100-metre sprint on Saturday at the IAAF World Championship in London should have been a proud moment for the runner. But then it was Usain Bolt’s, the much loved “fastest human in history”, last dash in competitive athletics, and a crowd that would have perhaps forgiven Gatlin his doping past—or at least, would have been less harsh—booed him as he took to the podium for the gold medal. Cheers rang loud for Bolt’s bronze. This, unfair though it may seem to many, is a testament of Bolt’s legacy more than Gatlin’s. Bolt came into the championship battling a bad back and having ran 100 metres in under 10 seconds only once this year. And yet, the crowd continued to fervently believe that he would bow out with a win. A world that has been witness to Bolt’s peak would refuse to expect anything else, particularly the opposite. So what if his late-charge, his signature winning move, had been looking rusty for some time now?
Wasn’t Bolt the runner who ran to glory in the 2012 London Olympics, defending his gold from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and bettering is own Olympic record, after having predicted (some would say boasted) that he would win? Didn’t he set the dizzying 9.58 seconds world record at the Championships in Berlin in 2009? His ‘golden run’ peaked at 2016 Olympics, where he bested athletes with a feat that has since become popular as the “triple double”—in Rio, Bolt became the first and only person so far to have won the gold in both 100-m and 200-m in three consecutive Olympics. But Bolt signed off with something much greater than a win—his defending Gatlin against the boos from a crowd that was clearly rooting for him will remain an act of exemplary sportsmanship.