From smog relief to Segways: Beijings athletics showpiece forgot doping gloom pulse

Author : smutless1959
Publish Date : 2021-04-10 07:21:06

From smog relief to Segways: Beijings athletics showpiece forgot doping gloom pulse

The subject of doping won't go away and newly elected IAAF President Sebastian Coe, who officially took over the post on Sunday, has made it his No.1 priority.

But for a period that cloud lifted -- even amid the failed drugs tests of two Kenyan athletes -- and a sport some suggested was fighting for its life was able to shine.

The smog lifted too, albeit temporarily, thanks to preparations by the Chinese government for a key military parade on September 3.

With most of the capital's factories shut down, barbecues banned, and cars with odd and even number plates only permitted to be driven on alternate days, spectators and athletes alike were treated to clear, blue skies.

And under those skies no one shone brighter than Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt -- written off before the championships after a troubled season in which he was struggling with a pelvic problem and nowhere near the times we have become accustomed to.

His sprint duel with Justin Gatlin, which spanned the sprint events -- 100m, 200m and 4x100m -- was in some ways a succinct summary of the sport in the 21st century: Bolt painted as the sport's savior, while Gatlin, twice banned for doping offenses, viewed by some as the pantomime villain.

However, the American sprinter, who had come into the championships unbeaten in 27 races, refused to speak to British media for what he deemed an unfair vilification.

Usain Bolt show

But when it mattered he could not catch Bolt. A stumble in the final strides of the 100m final seeing him edged out by just a hundredth of a second -- that minuscule moment in time the difference between positive and negative headlines for the championships.

READ: Bolt completes triple gold

As it turned out, the only person capable of toppling the world's fastest man was a Segway-driving cameraman for host broadcaster CCTV, who became an overnight global sensation when he lost control of the two-wheel vehicle and his camera and took Bolt down with him.

Unsurprisingly, Beijing 2015 became the Bolt show once more as it has been at every major championships since his first golden treble was achieved inside the same venue, the Ai Weiwei-inspired Bird's Nest, at the 2008 Olympics.

The stunning arena, which has remained largely empty since then, was sparked into life with a passionate and very vocal Chinese crowd.

As eye-catching as Bolt was in each race, the crowd reserved their biggest roar for local athlete Su Bingtian in the 100m final, and again when he anchored the host nation to silver behind the Bolt-inspired Jamaicans in the sprint relay.

READ: Bolt: The ultimate home movie?

This was a city that engaged with the championships in a way the previous two hosts -- Daegu and Moscow -- had not; those events noticeable by the empty spaces and lack of atmosphere in the stadiums.

Top performances on the track ...

Bolt aside, there were other obvious highlights. Britain's Mo Farah helped cement his name in the pantheon of distance-running greats with another golden double -- a hat-trick of doubles in fact at a global championships dating back to the London Olympics in 2012.

America's Ashton Eaton, surely a contender for the world's greatest athlete, broke his own world record -- the only one to topple in China -- in the decathlon, while his compatriot Christian Taylor hopped, skipped and jumped his way to nearly breaking Jonathan Edwards' 20-year-old triple jump record with his final leap of the competition. In the end, he lay a mark in the sand just short of the Briton's 1995 feat.

Then there was arguably the greatest 200m race of all time as three woman dipped under 22 seconds for the first time ever, with flying Dutchwoman Dafne Schippers crossing the line first. While U.S. star Allyson Felix sealed her place as the best female athlete in the world by opting for the 400m rather than the 200m, which she duly won at a canter.

And there was inspiration for mothers everywhere with Britain's Jessica Ennis-Hill the surprise winner in the heptathlon, just 13 months after giving birth to her son Reggie.

There was also Kenya's Julius Yego, who won the javelin gold then revealed he used YouTube guides to teach himself to throw. It was a rare non-running medal for the African nation, who ended up topping the medal table by the end.

But perhaps the most impressive medal of all was a remarkable bronze achieved by the American 110m hurdler Aries Merritt, who competed in Beijing with just 20% function in his kidneys and against the advice of his doctors, just days before undergoing a transplant back at home.

... and off the track

For all the serious nature of the sporting and medical feats on show, there were also moments of levity.

There was the much-feted story that newly-crowned hammer champion Pawel Fajdek of Poland had tried to pay for his taxi after a booze-fueled night of celebration with his gold medal -- and duly left it in the cab.

Fajdek later denied the whole episode but one Polish journalist said: 'I don't know if it's true but the guy's crazy enough for it to have happened.'

There were other moments to capture the headlines for all the wrong reasons, namely Rolanda Bell, who quite literally found herself head first up to her waist in the water after misjudging a take-off during the 3,000m steeplechase.

As the competition closed, everyone -- the media in particular -- seemed focused on the action on the track, rather than the doping-related rumor and innuendo that dominated the lead-up to the Beijing showpiece.

READ: Coe to lead battle against dopers

That has not gone away -- Coe and the IAAF have made it clear that everything will be done to catch the cheats. The next major test for athletics will come at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next year, although there will undoubtedly be a few more controversies before then.

For all the things wrong in the sport right now, Beijing made one thing clear: athletics at its best is still alive and kicking.


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