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Usain Bolt’s show piece | Ghana News Agency (GNA)

Accra, Aug. 13, GNA – Given this was once a
country of incorrigible baton-droppers, the British men’s relay team restored
national pride in the most emphatic and improbable style last night with a gold
medal to gatecrash Usain Bolt’s showpiece send-off.

The juxtaposition of Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake
jumping for joy as a tormented Bolt cursed a strained hamstring is one that
will remain seared upon the minds of all who saw it.

Seldom has an evening of sport culminated in
such an emotional maelstrom.

Bolt must have played the script over in his
head a dozen times: one more Saturday night gold, for old times’ sake, for the
ultimate showman. Except the quartet of Mitchell-Blake, Chijindu Ujah, Adam
Gemili and Daniel Talbot would have none of it. Running down the Americans in
the closing strides, they produced Britain’s first 4 x 100 metres gold at world
championships and the first ever by a host nation.

Bolt, prone and distraught on the track, was
left to endure an exit as undignified as it was controversial. The finest
champions are not defined by their last moments in the field of battle, but as
heartbreakers go this was Donald Bradman’s duck at the Oval to the power of
100. It looked at first like the infernally-timed breakdown of his ageing legs,
but each of Bolt’s team-mates argued that he had suffered a cramp brought on by
unnecessary delays.

The man of the moment had been waiting
interminably while the last medal ceremonies were conducted, which Yohan Blake
claimed had contributed to cramp. “They were holding us too long in the call
room,” Blake said. “Usain was really cold. In fact he said to me, ‘Yohan, this
is crazy – 40 minutes and two medal presentations before our run. We kept
warming up and waiting, and I think it got the better of us. We were
over-warm.” Bolt, for his part, headed to the treatment room and left the scene
without a word.

Amid febrile scenes at the Olympic Park, the
British collective produced stunning individual efforts and seamless
changeovers to thwart the US favourites in a time of 37.47 seconds, the fastest
in the world this year and the quickest by a European since 1999.
Mitchell-Blake had everything to do in bringing it home and yet he tore past
Christian Coleman, the silver medallist, like a man possessed.

“The feeling of euphoria was from infinity,”
Mitchell-Blake said. “I wasn’t sure if I had won or not. I gave it my all, but
I could see Christian out of the corner of my eye. I can’t register it. We
smashed the British record to pieces.”

Gemili’s smile, one sensed, would stay fixed
in place for days. He has experienced his share of turmoil in these settings,
not least when he missed out on 200m bronze in Rio last summer by one hundredth
of a second, but this was the richest recompense.    

“It is so special to come back,” he said,
shaking his head in wonder. “Crazy.”

Talbot explained that that the grim comedy of
errors that characterised their display in this stadium at the London Olympics
in 2012 had been a motivating factor. On that occasion, Britain did not even
reach the final, after bungling the first changeover in the heat between
Christian Malcolm and Dwai Chambers. Their determination to atone here was
palpable.

For Bolt, the pain was too much for him to
articulate initially. A loss to Justin Gatlin over 100m he could take, just
about, but to suffer this ignominy in front of a crowd willing him to one more
wondrous flourish was the cruellest twist. Julian Forte, his Jamaican
team-mate, at least had the decency to try to balm the wounds, reflecting: “Usain
kept apologising to us but we told him there was no need.”

On an unforgettable evening for relays, that
symbol of athletic kinship, the British women’s line-up of Asha Philip, Desiree
Henry, Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita also weighed in with an unlikely
silver, holding off Jamaica by a mere seven hundredths. Delirium coursed
through them as they set off on their lap of honour. While bronze at the
Olympics had been a watershed success, but was an accomplishment of a different
magnitude from a team with an average age of 22.

Asher-Smith, who has recovered from a fracture
to her right foot, said: “To upgrade from Olympic bronze to world silver with
these girls has been absolutely incredible, and to do it at home means so much.
We are so proud to win the medal in London.”

He was a sentiment that would echo long
through the Stratford night, even if the pleasure of the unexpected was
tempered by the manner of Bolt’s goodbye. It was hard not to suppress the
thought, as he headed off to his life of unlimited Jamaican leisure, that he
deserved better.

GNA

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