Usain Bolt finishes third in final solo race
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, August 5, 2017 1:07PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, August 6, 2017 8:23AM EDT
LONDON -- On a night intended to celebrate one of the greatest athletes of all time, someone crashed Usain Bolt's farewell party.
But it wasn't Andre De Grasse. The Canadian wasn't at London Stadium on Saturday night, instead somewhere else nursing heartbreak and a torn hamstring, and surely wondering: what if?
On two good legs, the 22-year-old from Markham, Ont., who'd unabashedly stated he wanted to beat Bolt before the Jamaican legend retired, could well have done just that Saturday night at the world track and field championships in Bolt's final individual race of his unparalleled career.
Instead, it was American Justin Gatlin, five years Bolt's senior, who dethroned the global sprint king, winning gold in a shocking men's 100 metre final.
"It's just so surreal right now," Gatlin said. "Usain has accomplished so much in our sport and inspired others."
A couple of hours after the race, the Canadian team was hit with more bad news, when reigning Olympic and world champion high jumper Derek Drouin pulled out with an Achilles tendon injury.
Bolt, meanwhile, was punished for a poor start, his 30-year-old legs on his giant six-foot-five frame taking seemingly forever to hit top speed. And there'd be no sensational finish this time, instead just a stunned crowd of some-60,000 at London Stadium, who booed Gatlin loudly for his doping-tainted career.
Gatlin won in 9.92 seconds. American Christian Coleman, who won this year's NCAA championships in the 100 and 200 before turning pro, was second in 9.94. Bolt got bronze in 9.95.
"No regrets," Bolt insisted. "It was always going to end, no matter what happened -- win, lose or draw. It doesn't change anything in my career."
Gatlin let out a mighty roar when he crossed the line, then, staring into a television camera, put a finger to his lips in show of shushing the crowd. He was gracious to Bolt, bowing down before a man who'd roared to 11 world titles.
"Usain has accomplished so much in our sport. . . Usain said 'Congratulations, you deserve it,' and that's from the man himself," Gatlin said.
De Grasse was intent on playing a starring role Saturday night, and if anybody was to beat Bolt in his finale, the Canadian was the consensus favourite to do it. But all chance of that evaporated when he strained a hamstring in training Monday night and shelved his season.
In the year since De Grasse gave Bolt a run for his money at the Rio Olympics, pushing him in a 200-metre semifinal made famous by De Grasse's precocious grin-- and Bolt's "not so fast" finger wag back -- anticipation of a rematch had been sky-high.
While De Grasse wasn't in the race, he was trending on social media as Canadian fans took to Twitter to voice their regret.
"Crazy to think (Bolt) probably doesn't medal if De Grasse is healthy," pointed out one poster.
Both are big-game competitors who are at their best when the lights are brightest, De Grasse proving that at the 2015 world championships when, running out of Lane 9 and in his 52nd race of an excruciatingly long season, captured bronze.
"To not have this opportunity is unimaginable to me," De Grasse said in a statement on Wednesday.
His coach Stu McMillan added the inability to race Bolt one last time will be "the thing that haunts him most."
Bolt still has the 4x100 relay next weekend, but won't race the 200, a second race De Grasse had a legitimate shot at winning.
Bolt said he wasn't in shape to run the 200 this season, adding that result "probably would've been even worse."
One of Bolt's most memorable early moments actually came in Sherbrooke, Que. Sixteen years old, and already a head taller than his competitors, he cruised to an easy win in the 200 metres at the world youth championships there, and likely would have won the 400 as well if he hadn't withdrawn after the semis with an illness.
But 14 years later, he'd looked susceptible all season, racing only a handful of times. He lost to Coleman by a hundredth of a second in the semifinals. And when the camera zoomed in on his usually playful face before the final, Bolt looked nervous.
"It is just one of those things," he said. "It has been brilliant. I did it for the fans. They wanted me to go for one more season. I came out and did the best I could."
One of sport's most entertaining icons, and most dominant athletes on the planet -- in any sport -- took a 10-minute farewell lap, making a beeline into the section of Jamaican fans to pose for selfies. He knelt down on the finish line in Lane 4 and kissed the track, then turned and gave his famous "To the World" pose.
And if De Grasse's absence wasn't enough bad news for Canada, the team is left reeling from another massive blow with Drouin's withdrawal.
Coach Glenroy Gilbert had stated the team's intention was to top the record-eight medals won two years ago in Beijing. De Grasse and Drouin, however, accounted for three of those medals -- De Grasse also led Canada to bronze in the relay. And the duo won four of Canada's six medals at last summer's Rio Olympics.
Natasha Wodak and Rachel Cliff, both of Vancouver, were the only Canadians to compete in a final Saturday night, in the women's 10,000 metres. Wodak was 16th in 31:55.47, while Cliff was 20th in 32:00.03. Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana won gold in 30:16.32.