Track and field still waiting for ‘The Next Usain Bolt’
LONDON (AP) — If track and field’s wildest fantasy — “The Next Usain Bolt” — really is out there somewhere, he most certainly was not in the vicinity of the world championships on Thursday.
Eight men lined up for the final of the 200 meters, trying to become the first sprinter other than the Jamaican great to win the world title at that distance since 2007.
Among them was Isaac Makwala, the Botswana runner who became a celebrity of sorts with his soap opera-like story of being barred from the track meet with an alleged case of stomach flu, only to be readmitted for his shot at glory.
There was Wayde van Niekerk, the South African who has a 400-meter title under his belt from earlier in the week and certainly possesses the running credentials to be touted as the next great sprint champion.
And then, there was the winner: Ramil Guliyev, a 27-year-old who competes for Turkey but hails originally from Azerbaijan.
Guliyev, who finished last when Bolt won the 200 at last year’s Olympics, crossed the line in 20.09 seconds. It was the fourth-slowest time to win this race in the history of the championships. But Turkey’s second gold medal of the week had its perks. Moments after the win, Guliyev was on the phone with his country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Hours later, he was still wearing the Turkish flag around his shoulders — and making no apologies.
“I was competing against some of the best athletes in the world, so it didn’t bother me that the attention was on them,” Guliyev said. “Maybe at the next competition, everyone will look at me instead.”
Give him his due. Guliyev made up two steps on Van Niekerk over the last 20 meters to squeak out a .02-second victory.
Van Niekerk, who holds the world record at 400 meters, was trying to become the first person since Michael Johnson in 1995 to complete the 200-400 double at the worlds. How difficult that quest really is became evident the night before when Van Niekerk, coming down from the high of his 400 win, struggled in the 200 semifinals and barely squeezed into the final.
Though many are looking to him to occupy the mantle Bolt is leaving — and Van Niekerk says he’ll try Bolt’s specialty, the 100-200 double, in the future — the runner himself got a crash course in how hard it will be to take it.
“They made me realize it’s not going to be a walk in the park,” he said after capturing silver in a photo finish over Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago.
Makwala, meanwhile, could have put an exclamation point on his drama with a medal, but was never a factor. A week full of uncertainty and being hounded 24-7 by TV cameras, to say nothing of the illness he may or may not have had (he claims he was never sick), clearly took its toll. His time, 20.44, was .67 seconds slower than his season best.
“I don’t think I will ever face this again,” he said. “I will always pray to not face this again.”
Seven days into this most expectation-defying of track meets, fans of the sport must be growing used to seeing their world turned upside down.
Bolt finished third in his 100-meter finale to open the festivities. He’s already shut things down in the 200. When asked if he wished he could still run that race, he insisted “it would have been worse.”
A few things did go to form on a crisp, cool night at the stadium that hosted the Olympics five years ago — most of them involving the United States.
Christian Taylor and Will Claye repeated their 1-2 finish from the last two Olympics. Taylor won with a jump of 17.68 meters but was a bit disappointed because he didn’t hit the 22-year-old world record that he’s had his sights on for a while.
“Honestly, I’ve just been chasing this number, this magical 18.29,” Taylor said.
In the 400-meter hurdles, Kori Carter started outside in Lane 9 and never saw a soul on her way to gold. She crossed ahead of the Olympic champion, Dalilah Muhammad.
Back to the madness.
After her would-be gold turned into an inexplicable fourth-place finish Wednesday in the 400, Shaunae Miller-Uibo returned to win her 200-meter semifinal heat. She looked much better than when she limped down the homestretch the night before, and explained that things weren’t quite what they seemed.
“A lot of people thought I got hurt with my hamstring or something along that line,” said Miller-Uibo, the 400-meter Olympic champion. “I took a look at the screen and lost my balance. I ended up (stubbing) my foot into the track.”
She’ll get her second chance for gold in the 200.
And good news, track fans: Bolt will get another chance, too.
He returns Saturday as the headliner for Jamaica’s 4x100 relay team — to serve up one final glimpse of what this sport is going to miss once he’s gone.
“He finished his career, and of course he’s king,” said Guliyev, the new 200-meter champion. “The time is coming for us. We made it.”
More AP track coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/London2017
This story has been corrected to show that it was the fourth-slowest time to win the 200, not second-slowest, and to show Makwala ran .67 seconds slower than his season best, not .66 seconds.