Justin Gatlin may have spoiled Usain Bolt’s final 100-metre race, but the retiring Jamaican had a personal message to his arch-rival in the moments after the World Championship event in London.
Hailed by the crowd when he entered the stadium, Bolt’s loss was marked with even more prolonged applause after the loss, while the victorious American was booed.
“The first thing he said to me is, ‘Congratulations, you worked hard for this’,” Gatlin told BBC Sport after the race.
“He said, ‘You don’t deserve the boos’ and I thanked him for inspiring me throughout my career.
“We’re rivals on the track but in the warm-down area we still joke and have a good time … he is an inspiration.
“The people who love me are here cheering for me, at home cheering for me and that’s what I’ve been thinking about.”
Gatlin, who was banned from the sport for four years after being found guilty of doping in 2006, took the gold with a 9.92 second dash, heading fellow American Christian Coleman in 9.94 seconds.
Bolt crossed the line in 9.95 seconds as the fairytale ending to a lustrous, incredible career failed to materialise.
Even when anti-Gatlin feeling was most rife in the sport a couple of years ago, Bolt never sought to rub it in his foe’s face.
Even as he contemplated such an anti-climactic end to his individual career, Bolt was big enough to pay a tribute to Gatlin that swam against the tide of ill-feeling.
“He [Gatlin] is a great competitor. You have to be at your best against him,” Bolt said. “I really appreciate competing against him and he is a good person.
“We’re competitors, Justin and me, and he was better on the day.”
International athletics chief not as forgiving
The president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, Sebastian Coe, was not impressed saying Gatlin should have been banned for life for his positive drug tests.
Lord Coe told the BBC’s Sportsweek program the World Anti-Doping Agency had enabled Gatlin to return after two doping violations.
“I’m not eulogistic at the thought of somebody who has served two bans in our sport walking off with one of the biggest prizes our sport has to offer,” Lord Coe said.
“There have been two bans in the past. One got watered down, which made it very difficult for the second ban.
“The second ban, we went for an eight-year ban, which would have, in essence, been a life ban. We lost that,” he said.
“I’m never going to set my face [against] or close the door on the thought that we could end up one day with a lifetime ban.”
Gatlin relives his greatest moment
Gatlin, 35, said beating Bolt was “surreal” but relished in taking the top step of the podium and recalled his triumph at the Olympic Games in 2004.
“I thought of all the things I would do if I did win − I didn’t do any of that,” Gatlin said. “It was almost like 2004 all over again. I won by a little margin and to be able to come across the line and have that excitement.
“It’s still amazing because it’s Usain Bolt’s last race.
“I’ve had so many victories, so many losses, and to be able to run against him throughout the years, it’s an amazing night.”
Bolt went into the final race feeling less than confident.
“I’m just disappointed I couldn’t do better, but that’s how it goes sometimes,” he said with a philosophical shrug.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 5, 2017
Despite the crowd’s boos, Gatlin was gracious in victory − dropping to his knees in front of the vanquished champion to pay homage to the man he had just beaten.
Bolt, 30, won every Olympic and world 100m and 200m since 2008, with the exception of the 100m at the 2011 Daegu world titles, when he false-started in the final.
Bolt is also scheduled to contest the 4x100m relay on the penultimate day of the championships which run until August 13.
Loss of friend made it hard for Bolt
The stunning loss left spectators wondering if a badge pinned to Bolt’s singlet told the story of his failure to end his career with a winner’s laurels.
The badge bore the image of a man’s face and just two words “Germaine Mason” − the name of the sprinter’s best friend who died in an April motorcycle crash in the Jamaican capital of Kingston.
Bolt had been out on the town with his British high-jumper mate that same evening and was one of the first on the scene after the fatal crash.
“Mentally, I wasn’t ready to even train for, like, two-and-a-half weeks, which I had to take off and just collect myself,” he said after returning to training.
“So I have been working hard trying to get back to where I was.”
– with AAP, ABC