Usain Bolt: Showman strikes again at World Championships

By Tom FordyceChief sports writer
Bolt beats Gatlin for sprint double

So now we know: the way to bring down Usain Bolt is to blindside him with a Segway.

Even then it was too late. By the time a cameraman chasing the great champion had clipped his winged heels and sent them both to the deck, Bolt was halfway round his lap of honour and his latest line-up of victims trudging out of the stadium with their spikes slung round their necks.

Cameraman makes peace with Bolt

The 100m final had been close. Only one hundredth of a second had separated Bolt and his rival Justin Gatlin on Sunday night, even if a chasm opened up between them in the aftermath.

This 200m showdown, the rematch, the chance for Gatlin to gain revenge and a little glory after all the controversy and carping of the last seven days?

This one was over in less than two-hundredths of a second. Bolt's reaction time from his blocks was 0.147 seconds. Gatlin's was 0.161. The gap between them would only grow.

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For a man who has so regularly made the impossible real, Bolt's victories can also seem pre-ordained and predictable within moments of him hurtling alone through the line.

He is almost a victim of his own brilliance. There seems no room for doubt, even if it was an unacknowledged guest in minds around the world before he settled into his blocks.

It is another of his great conjuring tricks. Coming into these championships Gatlin had run more than two tenths of a second faster over 200m than any other man in the field this year, and almost half a second quicker than Bolt.

Bolt and Gatlin
Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin (right) shared their thoughts after the 200m race

Only in Wednesday night's semi-finals had Bolt gone under 20 seconds for the first time, and then by the thickness of a yellow Jamaican vest.

Gatlin has been so consistently quick this year that his collapse in the 100m seemed surely to have been a costly aberration. Aim whatever other arrows you choose at him, but the 33-year-old has run through several eras of sprinting.

He won his Olympic title 11 years ago. A decade ago he left a gangly 18-year-old Bolt trailing home last as he won the World 200m title in Helsinki. He may lack remorse but not experience.

All that might count against any other opponent. Not Bolt.

Gatlin had to be up on him at 50m. He had to be dominating the champion's eyeline at 100m to hope to defuse Bolt's greatest weapon of all, that sweet acceleration off the bend and away up the straight.

Usain Bolt
Bolt kisses the ground after Thursday's race

Instead Bolt never even saw him. Away from the blocks, eating up the bend, warm night air between him and the supporting cast as they faded away behind him once again.

Gatlin was quiet afterwards, the simmering aggression of his Diamond League wins all summer replaced by a melancholy resignation.

He knows he may never have a better chance of winning back a global title. It is not just his age, although he will be 34 by the time of the next Olympic 100m final.

Multiple world champion Michael Johnson on BBC Two
"We have to give Bolt a lot of credit for running in the 100m and 200m - this is the most he has been challenged. We haven't seen this type of showdown since Bolt came to prominence in 2008, but there's no-one quite like him, not on the track and certainly not off the track."

It is the opportunity tossed away, a perfect storm of brilliant form, struggling rivals and an undercooked Bolt blowing itself out in this windless steel stadium. If he hasn't done it here, why should he do it anywhere else?

At times in the last few years Bolt has appeared to be a man on a greatest hits tour. The defining moments are in the past but the showmanship remains. An audience grown up on his brilliance are desperate to see him before it is too late.

Bolt reacts to 200m glory

Except he is at number one once again. Ten World Championship gold medals now, as out on his own by that measure as he was thumping his chest through the line, another in his sights in the sprint relay; six Olympic golds, Rio and the chance for three more less than 12 months away.

It cannot keep going forever. The current end date is August 2017 and the next World Championships in London. The world records will probably sit untouched for a generation, but the man who set them will one day be gone.

It is why we should cherish every victory, even as they seem inevitable, every little vignette as the cameras come searching for him before he goes to his blocks, every selfie-laden lap of honour.

For even as his performances have defied precedent and logic, we can all understand what he does.

Kids cannot share the experience of driving a Formula 1 car. Very few will ever know what it is like to dribble through half a team like Lionel Messi or strike a drive almost 400 yards down a fairway like Rory McIlroy.

But we all grow up running, all grow up racing. It is sport at its purest, and Bolt is its perfect incarnation.

Bolt's major individual titles
Olympic 100m champion: 2008, 2012World 100m champion: 2009, 2013, 2015
Olympic 200m champion: 2008, 2012World 200m champion: 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015

There is always more. He stretches those brief seconds of brilliance from a short into an epic; the games on the warm-up track, the play-acting behind the blocks, the talking down the camera as if it were just you and him and then the dancing and posing and signing of everything in the drawn-out aftermath.

It is why there were a million requests for the 80,000 tickets for 2012's Olympic 100m final and why Rio will be overwhelmed in the same way.

He has changed his sport, and he has changed us. And no-one is ready for it to end.

Four-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Johnson talks to BBC Radio 5 live about his dream 4x100 relay team.

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