Paul Poulton reflects on Usain Bolt's last 100m final and what Justin Gatlin winning means for us all.

Usain Bolt
Usain Bolt

There is an annual 10k road race held on the outskirts of the West Midlands. Up to 900 runners inhale and exhale huge amounts of country air in an attempt to beat their PB. At least that's the line runners tell each other: "I am only running against myself". But that is only partly true of course. When the race begins and you see someone you know a mere 20 metres in front of you our demeanour changes to one of predator catching prey.

When I run the race I know there will be four or five other runners from a nearby church. We greet each other most cordially before the race, we have known each other for years. But I want to beat all five of them; the fact that I attend another church makes the race so much more enticing. I usually manage to beat three or four of them, and humorously accuse those who beat me of taking performance enhancing drugs.

The spirit of true sportsmanship demands that I'm glad we had the race and that it actually is the 'taking part' that counts. A friend of mine named Mick had one of his legs amputated, he told me that one of the things he regretted was getting so angry with himself that he never managed to run a marathon under three hours. "That was stupid," he said, and straight away I could see Mick's point. The sheer joy of running is a marvellous opportunity to celebrate life.

We recently saw the news that Usain Bolt had been beaten in his last 100m final by Justin Gatlin, who has served two bans (2001 and 2006) from the sport for taking drugs. In a spirit of forgiveness an arbitration panel gave Gatlin the opportunity to compete again. Gatlin quickly became a rogue of modern athletics and has been greeted by boos and jeers in some of his races. Usain Bolt's final 100m solo sprint should have been a fairy tale ending but the pantomime villain secured his own place in athletics' history and Bolt finished in third place with Gatlin's fellow American Christian Coleman coming second.

Time and age may have taken their toll on Usain Bolt, we have seen him run better and faster, and after all, he has now reached the grand old age of 30. However, Justin Gatlin is 35 and managed to stay focused and trained hard to win his gold medal. Gatlin did not let the jeers of the London crowd move him at all, saying "I tuned it out through the rounds and stayed the course. I did what I had to do."

There are times when we all face opposition of different sorts, and most people, when all is said and done, find a place in their hearts to admire a person who can stay focused and not let the "nay saying" crowd alter their course.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
(Rudyard Kipling "If")

Down on the track after the race there was no ill-feeling from the two men at the centre of attention. Justin remarked on Usain's honesty and sportsmanship, "The first thing he did was congratulate me and say that I didn't deserve the boos. He's an inspiration."

Last Sunday morning at my church I met with a few friends and we spoke about that race. One lady mentioned that Gatlin's win reminded her that the Pharisees and religious teachers were not at all happy with Jesus and 'They growled, "He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends."' (Luke 15:3) So Jesus addressed their complaint by telling three stories about a lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son, all of whom were found.

Some people, including Lord Coe, thought that Justin Gatlin should not have been allowed back onto the athletics' stage, and they may have a point, but from another perspective the World Championships 100m final 2017 gives us all hope. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.