Usain Bolt and Mo Farah still the stars of London five years on but uncertain future awaits

Athletics has a lot of work to do on and off the track following the departures of stars Usain Bolt and Mo Farah, writes Matt Majendie.

Matt Majendie
by Matt Majendie
14th August 2017

article:14th August 2017

Five year flashback: Mo and Bolt at London's Olympic Stadium.
Five year flashback: Mo and Bolt at London's Olympic Stadium.

Five years on, the echoes of London 2012 were all around: the same venue and, to a certain extent, the same stars expected to shine.

At those 2012 Olympics, Usain Bolt and Mo Farah had sealed five golds between them, swapping their poses, Bolt with the Mobot, Farah with the lightning bolt as they lapped up the applause.


For both these 2017 IAAF World Championships were a farewell: Bolt hanging up his spikes for good, Farah off to pursue the next chapter of his career in the marathon.

Two of the predicted faces of London 2017, they proved just that, but more for their shortcomings than the dominance with which they previously reigned.

For Bolt, it was inevitably a championship too far, and in truth he should have bowed out in Rio.

But instead he ran on, struggling to a bronze medal in the 100 metres – upstaged by Justin Gatlin to a cacophony of boos – and then pulling up injured just a few strides into the 4x100m relay.

Yet in defeat, he garnered as much love as if the golds had been sealed or the world records broken.

Farah showed at 34 he was right to run on, winning a brilliant gold in the 10,000m only to have to make do with silver in the 5,000m the following weekend; Muktar Edris edging him out and stealing the Mobot in mock celebration.

To put it into the words of IAAF president Seb Coe, “Mo has taken to the roads, Bolt has hung up his spikes”, handing over the baton to the new stars of the sport.

In everything Give Thanks #Humbled #Thankful 🙌🏽

A post shared by Usain St.Leo Bolt (@usainbolt) on

Wayde van Niekerk has been signalled as the next Bolt but he too came up short, the energy-sapping nature of the 400m and 200m eventually proving a race too many.

Whatever he chooses to do next – and the 100m/200m next season seems the likeliest course of action – he is undoubtedly set to shine.

But a championship that offered so much ended with a sour note, the 25-year-old hitting out at rival Isaac Makwala for accusations of “sabotage” against the Botswanan, and favouritism towards the South African from the IAAF.

It had been the great duel of the championships, on paper at least, one initially missed when Makwala was quarantined with the norovirus and denied a chance to run.

The soap opera of these champs, the quarantine expired and Makwala was given a 200m time trial to make the semi-finals, solo and in the pouring rain, much to the delight of the crowd. He made it only to fall short in the final.

It was the stand-out controversy of what fell short of being a vintage championships, another notable talking point the eligibility of Caster Semenya to compete with hyperandrogenism, in which she naturally produces more testosterone than most of her counterparts.

It is a saga set to run on, the IAAF trying to prove that Semenya and others gain an advantage, the matter going back to the Court of Arbitration for Sport next month.

In addition, there was an increasing number of Russian athletes – 19 deemed eligible to compete, Maria Lasitskene the stand-out with high jump gold.

The spectre of doping still looms large on a much-maligned sport, the optimistic narrative that the lack of world records – just Ines Henriques in the 50-kilometre walk – showed a cleaner future.

Ed Warner, chairman of these championships, said: “London 2017 has given athletics its belief back.”

Whether such optimism is warranted or not, only time will tell but athletics treads anxiously into life after the biggest star in its entire history walks away.


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