Usain Bolt rode to the rescue of his beleaguered sport in the toughest race of his career as he dashed Justin Gatlin’s hopes of 100m gold at the World Championships in Beijing.
The Jamaican lived up to his billing as the saviour of athletics as he held off the challenge of the two-time drug cheat to win in 9.79secs at the Bird’s Nest Stadium. Gatlin stumbled across the line 0.01secs behind.
The American’s team-mate Trayvon Bromell and Canada’s Andre de Grasse, who are both just 20, shared bronze in 9.92.
Gatlin has been cast as the sport’s No 1 villain, especially in the wake of the doping allegations which have engulfed athletics and its governing body the International Association of Athletics Federations in recent weeks.
A win for the 33-year-old, especially over six-time Olympic champion Bolt and in the blue-riband event, would have been a hammer blow to an already-damaged reputation. His return to the top of athletics following a four-year drug ban which expired in 2010 has left many within the sport feeling at best uncomfortable and at worst outraged.
The 2004 Olympic champion came into the championships at the top of the world rankings, having run 9.74.
Bolt, in contrast, has been affected by a pelvic injury this summer and had a shocking semi-final performance.
After winning a 10th individual global title, he said: “Coming back from injury I’ve had a lot of doubters, it’s been a tough road, so for me to come to the championships and defend my title is a good feeling.
“I definitely think this was my hardest race. I’ve been through a lot this season, it’s been rough.”
Gatlin said: “I stumbled in the last five metres, my arms got a little flaily,” he said. “You have to come out and run and over the last five metres it wasn’t my day to do so.”