Saturday 24 June 2017

Lightning Bolt shoots himself in the foot

Ian Chadband , in Daegu, South Korea

Usain Bolt, who has offered the sporting world some of its most jaw-dropping moments, delivered another in Daegu in a split second of astonishing drama yesterday.

The instant that the unbeatable ended up beating himself by false starting in the World Championship 100m final will be enshrined as track's most incredible, theatrical implosion.

Athletics ringmasters were left wondering if they had only themselves to blame for seeing their showpiece blue riband event ending with its one truly global superstar attraction being disqualified and immediately promised a review of the rule that helped Bolt self-destruct.

The man himself, reduced from comical pre-race showboating to post-race despair before his Jamaican training partner Yohan Blake, ironically, went on to inherit his crown, was only left offering morosely: "I have nothing to say right now. I need some time."

Not just him; the entire sport needed some time to digest this sensation.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) had introduced a rule last year to eliminate athletes for making just one false start. It would make the sport more streamlined and exciting, they figured.

Little could they have imagined that in just one weekend, after seeing two big fish -- Olympic 400m champ Christine Ohuruogu and Dwain Chambers in the 100m semi-final -- caught in the net, it would end with the biggest shark of all being ensnared.

Officials were putting on a brave face after the 'sudden death' elimination rule resulted in a potentially classic clash between Bolt and his talented 21-year-old Kingston buddy Blake turning into a procession, with the dreadlocked youngster winning in 9.92 seconds, well clear of American Walter Dix (10.08) and the evergreen 2003 champion Kim Collins (10.09).

"It's sport, not show business. You have to be careful about saying 'this is our big star and he needs protecting for the sake of entertainment'," said Nick Davies, the IAAF's director of communications. "Respect for the rules has to be paramount. But, of course, rules can be reviewed. The (IAAF) Council has the power to change them and the next meeting is here on Sunday. There's no doubt it will be on the table".

showdown

You can wager plenty that they will end up again amending a rule that ruined a showdown between Bolt and the controversial youngster who served a doping ban for three months in 2009.

In the semi-finals, both training partners won while easing down but the younger, shorter pupil clocked 9.95, a tenth of a second quicker than the master. It brought to mind Bolt's observation earlier this year that "this kid is like a beast. He tells me every day in training 'I'm going to beat you'". Blake never got the chance.

In the build-up to the final, Bolt went through his usual daft gesturing, as if to prove he was not in the slightest bothered about the pressure. We have seen it many times before but perhaps he was acting so nonchalantly to mask the fact that this time, after a sluggish comeback season, he was just a mite concerned about the challenge of a lad who was tipped to win by former champion Maurice Greene.

What followed certainly told of what Michael Johnson described here as "a lack of focus". In Berlin, before his epic 9.58 second world record, Bolt had beaten the gun in the semi-final but under the old false-start rule earned himself a second chance. Evidently, he had not learned his lesson.

It was not even a close call; Bolt beat the gun by a tenth of a second, blasting forward for two and a half steps before screaming at himself, rearing up and pulling his yellow vest over his face, standing stupified and bare chested in mid-track. Quite surreal.

His rivals could not believe it. Dix was sure he would get a recall -- "I mean, how can you kick Usain Bolt out of the race?" he marvelled -- while Collins felt it "must have made good TV".

But Collins, who made one of his familiar bullet starts before being overhauled, was not alone in feeling the rule was again a case of athletics shooting itself in the foot: "I don't think it is right. You have to give people a chance."

The stage was at least set for Blake, who also trains under Bolt's mentor Glen Mills, to put on a masterly display. Blake always fancied his time would come, though hardly so soon. "It's very sad he was not in the final, he would push you to run even faster," he said.

One suspects Bolt will be spurred on in Friday's 200m, when he defends the title he won in an incredible 19.19 secs in Berlin.

"Looking for tears? Not going to happen. I'm OK," he said. Yesterday's lightning bolt couldn't strike twice, surely. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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