On a night when the human weaknesses of two seemingly invulnerable champions were so cruelly exposed, a young quartet of British sprinters provided a quite extraordinary antidote to the depression of seeing Usain Bolt and Mo Farah bid their farewells.
For Bolt the end came suddenly and painfully, the world’s greatest athlete covering little more than 15 metres of his last major race before injury halted his progress; a victim, apparently, of severe cramp in his left hamstring.
It was no way for such an incredible career to conclude, Bolt reduced to an almost pathetic figure as his own momentum carried him half-way down the straight before he collapsed to the track. Medics arrived at his side with an invitation to climb into a wheelchair. Pride, however, came after the fall, and he insisted on hobbling to the finish line.
Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake stormed over the line in London as Great Britain won gold in the men’s 4x100m relay final
Mitchell-Blake burst into the lead as the crowd rose from their seats as Great Britain stood on the brink of history
Team GB’s team members (left to right) Mitchell-Blake, Daniel Talbot, Adam Gemili and Chijindu Ujah at the London Stadium
Usain Bolt was racing down the final straight when he pulled up after appearing to injure his hamstring
By then, though, something truly remarkable had happened, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake holding off the challenge of Christian Coleman to secure Britain’s first world championship gold in the sprint relay.
If the London crowd feared Justin Gatlin would gatecrash Bolt’s party for a second time in two weekend’s prior to this final, the Titans of sprinting had been reduced to little more than a footnote by the time Mitchell-Blake screamed into the stadium host’s microphone and declared: ‘We’re world champions’.
At that moment the stadium erupted, with Bolt upstaged for the first time in his career by four young lads who probably grew up with posters of the fastest human in history on their bedroom walls.
They were brilliant, not just with the execution of three near-perfect baton changes but the quality of their individual performances.
Bolt tumbled to the ground as he was passed by the other athletes on a night where his fairy-tale ending didn’t materialise
CJ Ujah exploded out of the blocks, a reaction time of just 0.124secs enabling him to run a superb leg. But it was the sight of Adam Gemili holding his own against Gatlin that revealed just how well the British team were going.
Danny Talbot came next, following a fine display in the opening round of the 200m with a flawless bend and delivering the baton to Mitchell-Blake ahead of both the Americans and the Jamaicans.
Even then, however, the second fastest Briton in history over 200m had his work cut out against the quickest 100m runner this year.
Bolt was out of it before that hamstring suddenly went, the result, the Jamaicans complained afterwards, of delays that meant their sprinters had been unable to remain sufficiently warm. But Coleman had been rapid at these championships, taking individual silver ahead of Bolt, and Mitchell-Blake had to be at his very best to see off the challenge of a young American who has just signed a million-dollar deal with Nike.
Bolt is consoled after the last race of his career ended in disappointment at the World Championships in London
Cue glorious celebration. Cue photobombs by the championship mascot as the British quartet posed in front of the clock displaying their British and European record and a time of 37.47secs that has only been bettered by the Jamaicans and Americans.
The world record still belongs to Jamaica, run in this stadium in the Olympics five years ago. But this race marked the end of another era of dominance, given you have to go back to Osaka in 2007 for a global sprint relay when a Jamaican team did not cross the line first.
Their first victory has now been erased from history, a doping ban for Nesta Carter costing Bolt one of his nine Olympic gold medals.
But the sprint factory’s production line now appears to have ground to a halt, the absence of a Jamaican in either final of the 200m at these championships perhaps the biggest indication of that.
For Bolt, of course, the legacy remains intact even if the leg is in bits. It remains an astonishing career. He retires with three world records, 13 individual global titles and 19 in all, even if those relay performances do represent a rather less palatable part of his career when they link him to the darker side of the sport.
The Jamaican team react after they failed to finish the race following Bolt’s injury which happened down the final straight
Not that anyone cared about such issues on Saturday night, these young sprinters lifting spirits after what has been a disappointing championships for the British team.
‘We said we knew we could do it, but when we did it, we did it with a bang,’ said Ujah. ‘I’m proud of these guys, and it’s just crazy to do it in London, our home-town.’
‘We’re world champions,’ added Gemili. ‘It’s crazy to think it but we are.’
And Bolt? He receives a special award this evening, and will be invited to take one last lap of honour. But as he knows better than anyone, nothing rivals gold.