They have always been a study in contrasts and rarely have observers rushed to compare the two. Understandably so, as Mo Farah and Usain Bolt have set their own parameters for excellence in different pursuits. But as the IAAF World Championships drew to a close on Sunday, the difference was ever so pronounced.
Farah tetchy, Bolt at peace. Both had their moment under the spotlight, despite not achieving their intended targets. Farah got a chance to run a moving lap of honour after finishing with a silver medal in the men’s 5,000m, Bolt of course could not even finish the 4x100m relay final thanks to a pulled hamstring. A felicitation ceremony on Sunday was to be the high point of the Jamaican’s week.
Bolt and Farah even found an opportunity for a warm embrace, after the latter had known it was not to be and the former was waiting to learn his fate. The joyous regard for each other was palpable but their moods diverged afterwards.
Farah has been repeatedly questioned about his relationship with Alberto Salazar, the coach who was behind the runner’s remarkable transformation. Salazar is currently under a United States Anti Doping Agency (USADA) investigation but the British athlete has constantly tried to distance himself from the seedy allegations which have hurt his mentor’s reputation.
So as he called the curtains on his track career, Farah took to task the voices who, in his view, have repeatedly questioned his integrity. “History doesn’t lie. What I achieved over the years, people are proud of me. You can write what you like. The fact is I’ve achieved what I have from hard work and dedication. Putting my balls on the line, year after year and delivering for my country.”
Despite suffering an emotional loss in the 5,000m final, Farah seemingly was in no mood to let his critics have it easy. “There’s nothing else to be said. Sometimes I find it bizarre how certain people write certain things to suit how they want to sell the story. You guys get to me — you never write the facts. The fact is, over the years, I have achieved a lot through hard work and pain. So many times, you guys have been unfair to me. I know that. But say it how it is. I want you to write the truth about what’s out there and educate people out there. But be honest with them. If you say Mo Farah has done something wrong‚ prove it.”
Farah’s 5,000m loss was his first in a major event in six years but it hurt him more to know that there are people who doubt his illustrious achievements. Even as he moves to a career in marathon running, the Somalia-born athlete would like to make a clean break with his track career. Of course, this seems a far cry from Bolt’s world.
The Jamaican continues to enjoy public goodwill and the athletics community is already experiencing the pangs of separation. A framed part of the track at the Olympic Stadium in London was presented to Bolt on Sunday as the IAAF rolled out the red carpet for its biggest star. As the sprinter commented, the defeats over the past week are not going to change how his career will be perceived. Bolt won so much that he could afford to lose.
Before he were to walk away from the shiny lights, though, there was still time to recall how good it had all been. Bolt stood at at the start marks for both 100m and 200m, clearly moved by the occasion. “I was saying goodbye to the fans and saying goodbye to my also. These are my two events that I have dominated for years. I was saying goodbye to everything. I almost cried. It was close but it didn’t come,” he said later.
Now that it is all over, Bolt just wants to have a drink and spend some time with family. But as athletics works its way through the mess left by doping scandals and corruption, the Jamaican is aware that he cannot completely cut himself away from the place he had come to call home. While calling for life bans for drug cheats, Bolt gave a glimpse of the manner in which he could contribute. “We hit rock bottom last year or the year before and now we’re on our way back up. Now we have to be strict on this to help the sport stay in a good place. I’ve proven to the world you can do it. You can be great without doping, that’s one of the things I want to preach to the younger kids.”
Of course, there exist longer-term goals too. When asked where he saw himself in 20 years’ time, Bolt expanded on his wishes. “Hopefully I’ll be married with three kids, still in track and field and just watching sport grow. I said I won’t be one of those parents who force their kids to do the sport, but if they want to run I will tell and show them it’s a great sport.”
Bolt has himself been a great sport. So has been Farah. But one cannot say the same about athletics as it stands right now. It is troubled, ravaged by crises. In Bolt and Farah, the sport had two names with genuine worldwide appeal. In spite of all the questions that exist, one can safely say that the two leading lights enriched the world of sport — not just athletics.
As Bolt ponders his life after retirement and Farah moves on to a different challenge, the IAAF would do well to continue its association with the stars. Athletics needs to find its feet again. Bolt and Farah may not have won it all this time but there’s a still much that they can offer. They are not bidding farewell for good just yet. Even in their varying moods.
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Updated Date: Aug 14, 2017 13:54:20 IST