Performances lift doping gloom

Performances lift doping gloom

Nothing thrills the senses like an athlete in full flight does, in complete control over his craft. That joy was being gnawed away by doubts and fears as track and field’s showpiece event, the World Championships arrived in Beijing nine days ago.

The spectre of doping loomed large, threatening to overshadow the 15th edition of the championships. After nine days, as the curtain came down on the championships on Sunday, those doubts and fears still lurk, but in the background, as waves of exhilarating performances swept the iconic Bird’s Nest Stadium.

From Usain Bolt’s triple-triple to Mo Farah’s triple-double, from Christian Taylor’s amazing leap in triple jump to Dafne Schipper’s incredible 200M dash and from Wayde van Niekerk’s sizzling 400M run to Ashton Eaton’s world record of 9045 points in decathlon, Beijing had enough action to keep the fans engrossed despite a couple of positive dope cases popping up from the Kenyan corner.

The baton in the administrative set up changed hands at the end of the championships with Sebastian Coe taking over from Lamine Diack as the president of the International Association of Athletics Federations but out on the track, the hierarchy was unaltered with Bolt extending his reign as the undisputed king.

Undisputed king
Amidst the flurry of doping allegations that marked the build-up to Beijing, Bolt was looked upon as the saviour of his sport. The dirt flying around might be too much for one man to clear but the Jamaican did his part to perfection -- winning three gold medals even when he wasn’t in the best of shapes and defeating his tainted American rival Justin Gatlin in both 100M and 200M.

Bolt described the 100M win as the toughest of his career and even the pundits concurred. “I am amazed, this is Usain Bolt’s best race ever,” American legend Michael Johnson told the BBC. “He knew it was a completely different set of circumstances for him. It’s not about technique, it’s about running for your life and he’s got the talent to be able to do that.”

Only one-hundredths of a second separated Bolt from Gatlin in the 100M but the Jamaican was a convincing winner in the 200M and his anchor leg in the 4x100 revealed his desire to finish on a high. With 11 World Championship gold medals and six Olympic gold, Bolt sits on a perch few can touch.

Farah’s double delight
Farah, who arrived in Beijing with his coach under a cloud, put behind his worries with tactically sound victories in the 5000 and 10000M while Taylor almost gave Jonathan Edwards a heartbreak in triple jump. His 18.21M was second only to Edwards’ world mark of 18.29 and had he got full advantage of the take-off board -- he was 11 centimetres behind -- the American would have been the clear-cut number one of all-time.

Given the context of these championships, Schippers finding herself answering hard questions wasn’t a surprise after her 200M gold. The Dutchwoman insisted she was clean, and ‘wow’ was the word that captured her remarkable rise. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce might have defended her 100M crown but she also found a rival to watch out for.

Van Niekerk’s 43.48 in the 400 left him so exhausted that he had to be taken to the hospital but he left the field only after making an indelible impact as a new star, just like Schippers.

Almaz Ayana’s awe-inspiring 5000M win over Genzebe Dibaba, the 1500M champ, and Allyson Felix’s bold charge in the 400M were outstanding pieces of running that lit up the Bird’s Nest.

Redemption time
At the other end of the spectrum, Beijing provided a platform for some established names to bounce back. David Rudisha was one, Jessica Ennis was another. Rudisha’s 800M triumph proved the champ had regained his speed after a season of woe. Ennis, back after childbirth, was outstanding in heptathlon.

The Kenyans widened their horizon, with Julius Yego’s eye-popping 92.72M in javelin and Nicholas Bett’s win in 400M hurdles standing out. But the African nation came under increasing spotlight with two of their athletes failing dope tests, tempering their joy over a haul of seven gold that put them on top of the medals table in Beijing.

Doping cloud also hung over Russia before the start and their mediocre performances -- they won just two gold medals compared to seven last time -- triggered talks that they were on the cleaner path here.

The journey to that destination will take a longer time but for a few days at least, Beijing provided succour for a wounded sport.

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