LONDON — Usain Bolt was ramping into warp speed when suddenly, stunningly, the sprint turned into a somersault.
Fifteen steps into the final homestretch of the final race, something gave in his left hamstring. The World’s Fastest Man skittered to a stop leaping, leaping, then finally dropping to the ground and tumbling ahead before coming to a rest.
While the winning team from Britain crossed the finish line, Bolt was hit the track, where he finally wound up torso along with his face pressed into Lane 5. He was certainly every bit as stunned as some of those 60,000-plus who packed the scene Saturday, or the millions watching one of the planet’s most interesting showmen make his final curtain call in the 4×100-meter relay at world championships.
There was no party. No gold, no silver, not even a consolation bronze, the likes of which Bolt obtained a week earlier in his closing 100-meter race.
Jamaica closed the night with “DNF” by its title: Did Not Finish. Dead last. Bolt was helped into a wheelchair, but finally got to his feet and, aided by his own teammates, limped gingerly through the finish line. He gave a few waves to the audience, then abandoned for the coach’s area, and with that, presumably left track and field forever.
“Injuries are part of our game and, always, of course, it’s sad to see,” said Wallace Spearmon, the American sprinter that has been close with Bolt for years and was on hand supporting the U.S. team. “So, yeah, it’s tragic.”
The Jamaican team doctor, Kevin Jones, recognized the injury that attracted a strange end to Bolt’s livelihood as, simply, a cramp from the winner’s left hamstring.
“However, a lot of pain is from disappointment out of dropping the race,” Jones stated. “The last 3 weeks have been hard for him, you know. We hope for the best for him.”
Seeing track’s No. 1 sprinter and actress falling to the ground was nothing short of jaw-dropping so much so that the simple fact that Britain won the race, outrunning a United States team which, somewhat surprisingly, did not drop the baton, almost looked like an afterthought.
Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake held off U.S. anchorman Christian Coleman down the stretch along with the Brits won their first-ever world name in the 4×100 in 37.47 seconds.
After Bolt took the baton from Yohan Blake for his final homestretch, he had been in third position, but there wasn’t any cause for concern. In virtually all those seven relay golds he’s won in the Olympics and world championships, Bolt has reeled from the competition down the stretch and won going away, substantially the same as all his 100 victories have played out.
Five years and one day earlier, on the exact same path, Bolt helped Jamaica set the world record. That run of 36.84 seconds earned Bolt the sixth of nine Olympic victories.
But last week in the 100, Bolt’s extra equipment wasn’t enough either to capture Coleman, who finished second, or to hold off Justin Gatlin, the oft-booed American who came from behind to complete first.
Could he have captured his relay competition in this one? Nobody could ever know. Bolt was gaining no ground in the 30-meter mark, and that’s when he felt the pain in his leg and went tumbling.
Afterward, there was plenty of second-guessing to be done. Most of it came at the cost of the IAAF, which left the sprinters wait about 40 minutes from the time they were summoned from the warm-up room to the time the starting gun went off.
“I feel this is mad,” Blake said. “Forty minutes. Waiting. Warming up. Waiting. Warming up. It just should not happen. To get your winner go out like that. It is mad.”
Said Gatlin, that remains persistent that Bolt will be back someday: “We lost all of our warmth, all of our perspiration, and we moved out there cold.”
Part of the wait was for the U.S. women’s relay team to complete its success party. Tori Bowie anchored the win and, with one day left in the match, is the only athlete to win two gold medals in London. Additionally, a decoration ceremony was held for Russian high jump winner Mariya Lasitskene, who is competing as a neutral athlete due to the doping crisis in her country and must listen to not her own anthem, but to the IAAF’s theme song, as she stood on the podium.
Other winners included Kevin Mayer of France from the decathlon and Johannes Vetter, whose success in the javelin throw gave Germany its first gold of the championships.
In the undercard to the relays, Muktar Edris held off Mo Farah of Britain in the 5,000. Together with his Ethiopian teammates, Edris won a strategic cat-and-mouse race and refused Farah his fifth straight long-distance double, highlighting world championships and Olympics.
It was a fun race to watch.
But nobody enjoys the show the way Bolt does.
As if to prove that stage one last time, he did it again now before completing the race.
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