Friday 9 December 2016

Gatlin isn't just a drug cheat, he's kind of a poster boy for doping - the anti-Bolt

Published 30/08/2015 | 17:00

Usain Bolt: A year struggling with injuries, a lack of races and sharpness had finally rendered him beatable.
Usain Bolt: A year struggling with injuries, a lack of races and sharpness had finally rendered him beatable.

This day last week I was sitting on the couch with my twin daughters trying to explain why the race between Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin was so important.

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"You mean," said one of them, "It's goodies against baddies like in films."

"Not quite like the films," I replied dolefully, "because the baddy is going to win."

I couldn't see it happening any other way. Gatlin had been unbeaten for two years on the Grand Prix circuit, had set improbable personal bests just a couple of months back and had looked awesome in qualifying. Bolt, on the other hand, had started the semi-final like a tractor slipping a gear and barely avoided falling on his face. A year struggling with injuries, a lack of races and sharpness had finally rendered him beatable.

So I muted the sound because I couldn't bear to hear the commentators announcing Gatlin as the new world 100m champion and . . . hang on . . . surely not . . . this is close . . . you're kidding me.

"When they show Bolt at the end dad, does that mean he's won?"

"It does."

And we leaped around the room like we'd just seen Castlehaven or Sligo Rovers win a cup.

Why did it feel so good to see Bolt win? For one thing because of the opposition. Gatlin isn't just a drug cheat, he's kind of a poster boy for doping with two bans and an unprecedented season for an ageing sprinter to his name. There's a grimness and arrogance about him which makes him the anti-Bolt.

There are those who say that we can't know Bolt (pictured) isn't on drugs and suggest he probably is. This may sound worldly-wise in a kind of 9/11 conspiracy/chemtrails kind of way, but its roots are in mean-spirited ignorance rather than perspicacity. And it also shows why the drug cheat is such a despicable figure. He doesn't just cover himself in shit, he manages to slime the honest competitor with it too.

The reality is that Bolt has been a one-in-a-kind phenomenon ever since he clocked 20.13 for 200m when he was just 16, a time which would have qualified him for last Thursday's final. A miracle of nature rather than one of chemistry, he even looks different from his main rivals. They call to mind Clive James' description of Arnold Schwarzenegger as "a condom stuffed with walnuts." Bolt's physique on the other hand conjures up memories of rangy West Indian paceman terrorising English batsmen in bygone summers.

When he hits his stride, Bolt reminds me of a conversation I had a while back with an oul' fella who was describing a renowned athlete of yore who'd beaten all and sundry at local sports to amass a considerable amount of suit lengths and carriage clocks. What made him so good, I wondered. Your man looked at me as if I was daft. "Sure, wasn't he fierce fast."

In comparison to his rivals whose sprinting always reminds you of the weight training they must have gone through, Usain Bolt is the apotheosis of the fierce fast man. When he wiped the floor with Gatlin in the 200m on Thursday, the kids were out getting their uniforms and stationery for the return to school. So I stuck on 'Young, Gifted and Black' and listened to the voices of Bolt's fellow Jamaicans Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths. And when they got to the line, "When you're young, gifted and black, your soul's intact," I thought yes, that's it. That's Bolt.

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