Ath­let­ics is head­ing from Bolt to the blues

Bray People - - SPORT -

FOL­LOW­ING THE death of a rel­a­tive (who shall re­main anony­mous) a few years back I was sit­ting solemnly be­side the open cof­fin in a fu­neral par­lour.

For the sake of this col­umn we’ll call my de­ceased fam­ily mem­ber Harry.

A stranger sheep­ishly came into the dark­ened room and shuf­fled gingerly to­wards the cas­ket, plant­ing him­self a cou­ple of seats away from my good self.

He grum­bled an Our Fa­ther and a few Hail Marys to him­self as all the while he kept his eyes fix­ated on the body.

He then sat in si­lence for a few min­utes be­fore even­tu­ally sum­mon­ing up the courage to turn to me and say: ‘God, poor auld Tom was hit hard. To look at him I wouldn’t even know him’.

‘That’s not Tom, that’s Harry,’ says I, and a flus­tered Dick (as we’ll call him) got out of there quicker than a bat out of hell and made his way across the hall to the room where his old friend Tom was domi­ciled.

Of course, we all saw the funny side, although if the ground could have opened up and swal­lowed poor Dick he would have gladly taken that op­tion. Gate­crash­ing a wed­ding is one thing, but turn­ing up at the wrong fu­neral to sym­pa­thise is a whole dif­fer­ent story.

Speak­ing of gate­crash­ing, Justin Gatlin was the ul­ti­mate un­wanted guest at the ex­pected Usain Bolt show at the World Ath­let­ics Cham­pi­onships in Lon­don on Satur­day evening. The script was writ­ten for Bolt, the great­est ath­lete of all time, to give us one last vic­tory to savour in his fi­nal in­di­vid­ual race, but the po­lar op­po­site and un­think­able hap­pened with the two-time drug cheat ru­in­ing the cel­e­bra­tory swan song.

Any­one who’s wring­ing their hands with glee at the prospect of the new Premier League sea­son kicking off is only too fa­mil­iar with anti-cli­maxes, with promised Scin­til­lat­ing Satur­days and Su­per Sun­days pro­vid­ing as much ex­cite­ment as a weather-beaten week day, but this, of all things, wasn’t sup­posed to be like this, this was sup­posed to be dif­fer­ent.

The ul­ti­mate sprinter and show­man, Bolt has amazed and en­ter­tained in equal mea­sures dur­ing a glit­ter­ing and un­par­al­lelled ca­reer and de­spite some sound­ings the pas­sage of time was be­gin­ning to catch up with the great one and his not fully con­vinc­ing path to the fi­nal, the op­ti­mist in all of us be­lieved he could sum­mon up what was nec­es­sary for one last time.

Sadly it wasn’t to be and the Amer­i­can vil­lain Gatlin breasted the tape in front as boos in­stead of rap­tur­ous ap­plause rang around the Lon­don Sta­dium, with Bolt only manag­ing bronze be­hind an­other U.S. ath­lete, Chris­tian Cole­man.

How­ever, the warmth and love that was be­stowed upon Bolt fol­low­ing the de­feat told its own story, and ath­let­ics will most likely never find an­other to re­place the pop­u­lar Ja­maican.

Many sports have a cult of per­son­al­ity that tran­scends into the main­stream and they would strug­gle to at­tract ca­sual ob­servers with­out their lead­ing lights.

Snooker has Ronnie O’Sul­li­van, ten­nis has Roger Fed­erer, rac­ing has Frankie Det­tori, but none of them prop up their cho­sen field in the way that Bolt has.

In terms of be­ing a sport­ing icon, he’s up there with the very best and the most recog­nis­able of any era. The sad truth is with­out him ath­let­ics will strug­gle like a Sumo wrestler try­ing to wade through quick­sand.

The smil­ing, jovial Bolt, who al­ways man­aged to find the right bal­ance be­tween cock­i­ness and like­abil­ity, was the supremely-tal­ented yet con­ve­nient poster boy who sin­gle-hand­edly helped to pa­per over the many cracks that run deep through ath­let­ics.

Un­for­tu­nately, there was no Hol­ly­wood rom-com style end­ing in front of an ex­pec­tant Lon­don crowd and Gatlin, who twice served bans for drug use, be­ing crowned the new 100 me­tres world cham­pion per­fectly il­lus­trates the seis­mic prob­lems that blight a sport that’s rid­dled with con­tro­versy and is strug­gling to con­nect with the public.

The sig­nif­i­cance of the re­sult will not have been lost on the pow­ers that be who have to ne­go­ti­ate the shark-in­fested wa­ters that lie ahead, but fans of Bolt will al­ways re­mem­ber how a gan­gly teenager from Ja­maica rose to promi­nence and went on to con­quer the world and re-write the record books.

Thanks for the mem­o­ries.

Usain Bolt con­grat­u­lates Justin Gatlin, win­ner of the 100 me­tres fi­nal at the World Cham­pi­onships.

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