In Depth

Gatlin ruins Bolt's farewell – where now for athletics?

Boos rain down as 'Voldemort in spikes' gets the better of superhero Usain Bolt in his final race

Justin Gatlin has been described as a "shameless fraud", a "super-villain" and "Voldemort in spikes" after ruining Usain Bolt's farewell at the World Athletics Championships in London.

Jeers rained down at the Olympic stadium on Saturday night as the twice convicted doper won a shock gold in the men's 100m final. Bolt was relegated to third place behind Chris Coleman in his final solo race.

There was more booing the following day as the American, who for years has played the evil baddie to Bolt's superhero, received his medal.

His victory was greeted by a "confused, pin-drop silence" inside the Olympic stadium, recounts Matt Dickinson of The Times. Next came a cascade of catcalls as the crowd realised "that the blue riband event of global athletics, the 100 metres sprint, had been won by Voldemort in spikes".

It was the most unwelcome result in track and field since Ben Johnson ran into infamy, he says.

Gatlin's win, 13 years after his gold at the Athens Olympics, "was a kind of zombie rising from the Balco scandal", says Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph

The American has twice been banned from athletics and twice returned after having his punishment downgraded. Now he will be remembered as the man who beat Bolt.

"There are many athletes here in London with positive dope tests on their dance cards," says Hayward. "But none has beaten the system quite like Gatlin, adorned with a gold medal by Lord Coe, and symbol of the sport's longstanding failure to match crime with punishment in the vast dark realm of pharmaceutical cheating."

The horrible anti-climax in London leaves athletics with questions to answer says Sean Ingle of The Guardian. "Two years ago when Bolt beat Gatlin by 0.01sec to win 100m gold in Beijing, the BBC's Steve Cram had insisted that the Jamaican had saved his sport. What were the public supposed to think now?"

Athletics remains a "fantastic sport", he says. "Yet how can it ever hope to have fresh blood pumping through it when too many of the public assume that its soul is frozen and its heart is permanently blackened?"

But Matt Lawton of the Daily Mail says the "outrage and disgust" that followed Gatlin's win are "almost laughable".

"The sport of athletics got what it deserved," he says. "By winning on Saturday night, Gatlin actually forced athletics to confront its problems in a week when Lord Coe dared suggest that doping is not its biggest threat."

But what can be done? Coe also spoke about the problem of doping after the race, says Dickinson of The Times, and grimly explained – "with words to kill the sporting soul" – that banning athletes for life is "suffused in legality" and almost impossible as a result.

"Testing is rarely a world of black and white, especially once the lawyers get to work," says Dickinson.

"This was certainly not the result anyone wanted and Bolt's third place made this the most anticlimactic sporting farewell since Sir Donald Bradman was out for a duck in his final innings.

"But this is sport, not fairytales, and while magic is often part of it – Bolt has provided some of the most electrifying moments ever witnessed – conflict and cheating will always be part of the package. Stronger deterrents can help but Gatlin has reminded us what a wretchedly fraught process that is when he could be here, triumphant."

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