New generation of athletes faced with succeeding Bolt and Farah

Fresh face: Dina Asher-Smith at the Great North CityGames. (Picture: Owen Humphreys/PA Wire)

Just who can compare to the incomparable?

This is the question that the IAAF, along with many across athletics will be asking as the sport enters one of its most pivotal years yet in 2018. To say there has been a changing of the guard is a massive understatement, after 2017 saw the sport’s global sensation Usain Bolt finally leave the track for good.

Great Britain's Mo Farah wins the Men's 10,000m at the 2017 IAAF World Championships but has now moved onto the road.

Now, as IAAF Chairman and British Athletics icon Sebastian Coe states, the sport has a “Bolt sized hole”, which admittedly may never be filled again.

The eight-time Olympic gold medallist will not be completely out of the picture, working with Coe to try and reinvent athletics into a more exciting and entertaining spectacle.

But following on from Bolt on the track has already been made tougher, with the man widely touted as his successor – 400m record holder Wayde Van Niekerk – already ruled out of April’s Commonwealth Games after injuring his knee during a game of touch rugby in October.

The sport will also be accompanied by the huge elephant in the room that is doping, with the clean Russian athletes still only allowed to compete under neutral colours as well as being plagued with what 110m hurdles medallist Sergey Shubenkov branded “stupid questions” about their neutral kit.

At least there was the relays? A stunning gold for the men’s 4x100m team as well as silver in both women’s relays and bronze in the men’s 4x400m, provided a ray of sunchine to an otherwise disappointing track meet for the host nation.

Connor Craig-Jackson

And while we are not likely to see another moment like the 100m final at last year’s world championships – at least for this year – the recent revelations from Justin Gatlin’s training camp have certainly not done the issue any favours.

But back on home soil, Britain too has an undeniably huge gap to fill in the form of Sir Mo Farah’s exit from the track.

While not retiring, the four-time Olympic champion has certainly relinquished his dominance in the sport with his move to road racing, leaving Britain with no individual that can be certain to grab a medal on the world stage.

Certainly, trying to predict which Briton would do so at last year’s World Championships in London proved a stab in the dark, with highly-fancied Laura Muir missing out on the medals (albeit in one of the most fiercely fought 1,500m finals ever) as well as 110m hurdler Andy Pozzi and Heptathlete Katarina Johnson- Thompson also falling short.

Can athletics replace Usain Bolt?

There was the emergence of young athletes such as Kyle Langford, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake and recently injured Dina Asher-Smith, who all impressed but who all finished one place off the medals.

At least there was the relays? A stunning gold for the men’s 4x100m team as well as silver in both women’s relays and bronze in the men’s 4x400m, provided a ray of sunchine to an otherwise disappointing track meet for the host nation.

The men’s 4x100m sprint team was the only non-Farah moment of success, and did show that Britain are very much alive and kicking as they enter a transitional period in a year highlighted by the Commonwealth Games and the European Championships.

Farah famously handed his vest to Andy Butchart after the Müller Grand Prix in Birmingham, symbolising the Scot’s position as Britain’s leading figure in long distance track running.

While Butchart will be hard pressed to break East Africa’s Commonwealth dominance out on the Gold Coast, he can certainly be seen as a strong contender in Europe, along with fellow Scot and Leeds-based Callum Hawkins, who proved to be another surprise performer for Britain when he finished fourth in the World Championships marathon, becoming only the second Briton to do so.

Asher-Smith will also enter the Commonwealths as one of England’s key figures, not just for those championships but for the future, while it only seems a matter of when rather than if Muir and Johnson-Thompson grab their first major international outdoor medals.

Britain certainly boasts some strong teams going into both meets, with the Commonwealths also looking set for a mouthwatering showdown in the men’s 4x100m final, England facing a Jamaican team that will still be hurting from their World Championships loss that saw Bolt fall to the ground with injury in his final race.

Whether all this does unfold for Britain this year and whether athletics can shake off the repercussions of Bolt’s retirement, the next few years will certainly be an interesting time for the sport as a new generation emerges.

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