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Under darkened Beijing skies there was a moment of blinding light. For two years Justin Gatlin has been the undisputed king of sprinting as well as athletics’ most notorious character but, cometh the hour, cometh Usain Bolt – by the narrowest of margins in a messily thrilling 100m world championships final.
With 20m to go the two men were locked together in a desperate tango, stretching and straining for the line. But then Gatlin over-reached, stumbled and, in a flash of 50,000 camera-phones and a whoosh of cheers, Bolt had him – just. The Jamaican’s gold medal time was 9.79sec to Gatlin’s 9.80, the width of a vest.
Behind them came two slight 20-year-olds who many believe are the future of sprinting, the Canadian Andre De Grasse and the American Trayvon Bromell, who shared bronze in 9.92.
As the youngsters hugged, Bolt launched into his familiar victory routine. This was his ninth world championship title – more than any athlete in history – but also his hardest. “It definitely means a lot because I’ve been struggling all season,” he said. “Justin has been running great so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But after I joined him around 80m all I kept telling myself was run through the line. I could see him stumbling but it could have helped his momentum so I had to keep my focus.”