Usain Bolt tells drug cheat Justin Gatlin: I'm still number one
Usain Bolt on Friday night returned to the Olympic Stadium with a message for Justin Gatlin that was far more emphatic than his 100 metres victory.
Gatlin, a two-time drug cheat, has established himself as this year’s form sprinter with four sub 9.8-second runs. Indeed Bolt headed into the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games as the 62nd fastest man this year based on his sole previous outing of 10.12sec that placed him below Britons Richard Kilty and Chijindu Ujah in an injury interrupted season.
Some of those cobwebs were blown away by the world-record holder with a victory in 9.87sec at the scene of his three gold medals at London 2012. It was far from a dominant display as he had to overcome a terrible start to beat American Mike Rodgers by just 0.03sec.
Now the serious business of tuning up for his much anticipated clash with Gatlin, who is unbeaten in 27 races, at the World Championships next month can begin.
Not since Rocky Balboa travelled to Russia to face Ivan Drago has a sporting contest had such connotations of good versus evil, but even if the bookmakers make evil an odds-on favourite, Bolt is not about to adopt an underdog mentality.
“I was never No 2,” Bolt said. “I am still No 1 so until that day I will continue being No 1. Until I retire that’s the plan.”
The pelvic injury that forced his withdrawal from the Diamond League meetings at Paris and Lausanne is clearing up and as far as Bolt is concerned this meet served its purpose perfectly, even if Glen Mills, his coach, will be concerned by another start that had him trailing the majority of the field for the first 50 metres.
In the circumstances, which included a headwind and a wet track, 9.87sec was perfectly respectable – indeed it was the sixth fastest time this year – and the six-time Olympic champion was more than satisfied with his night’s work.
“In the final I got a really bad start and when I got a bad start, I kind of lost the focus for a minute and my form,” Bolt said. “But in the last I got it back, so it kind of taught me a lot these two races.
“I just need to remember even if I get a bad start I need to focus on the work at hand and just get it done. I was never looking for any specific time but I know I could have gone faster if I just got my start.
“As I said, the heats were perfect for me but the finals were s-----, so it is just one of those things. It does help the confidence and that I have been putting in the work and I can see it is coming out on the track.”
There was also encouragement for Ujah, who equalled his personal best by finishing fourth in 9.96sec, but the main billing was built around the man for whom the Chancellor of the Exchequer had to tweak his tax breaks in order to allow him to collect a £150,000 payday. Was he worth it?
To the 40,000 odd who braved the wet and wild conditions, it was money well spent. He did all the obligatory Bolt high jinks and poses to a backdrop of a blizzard of camera flashes. The cheer that greeted his announcement was louder than the rest of the field, home favourites included, combined.
Bolt may insist that he is not the saviour of athletics, but this part of East London afforded him a welcome akin to the great redeemer sent from up on high to lift the gloom surrounding the sport.
Gatlin continues to run times barely credible for a 33-year-old let alone a two-time convicted doper (amphetamines and anabolic steroids) and is surrounded at the top of the rankings by a sorry accompanying cast of Asafa Powell (six-month ban), Tyson Gay (one-year ban) and Rodgers (nine-month ban). Bolt will face a lonely vigil in Beijing as candle-bearer in a sea of darkness.