The world was shocked last night as the fairy tale ending for Usain Bolt was rewritten as he finished third in the 100m at the World Championships in London. Perhaps that shock was exacerbated as it was the practically-forgotten pantomime villain of 2015, Justin Gatlin, who won the race gaining a chorus of understandable yet disrespectful boos, hisses and jeers from the crowd.
BBC commentators were quick to remind us all that this is competitive sport, not a predictable Hollywood narrative and every man in that final was out to spoil Bolt’s party. But let’s look at the story in literary terms: is this not a more satisfying climax? A heart in mouth ending that nobody saw coming? One to keep us talking for days instead of hours? And do we not still hold real hope that Bolt will rally with his team-mates exactly one week later in the relay final to wrap up a satisfying denouement?
Harry Potter’s final victory over Lord Voldemort would not have been as satisfying if he hadn’t been cast down in the forest before and it would never have meant so much if we hadn’t seen how many of his friends had lost their lives in the battle of Hogwarts. Surely, in a good story, we need the despairing depths before the happy ending? But remember…we are taking about sport…sport….sport…SPORT! But I know how I would choose to end it.
Bolt wrote his own story back in 2008 with his electric arrival and a year later with his two world records in Berlin, both of which will stand for far longer than the memories of his ‘ignominious’ bronze. That he has shown himself to be beatable and was still mobbed by media, photographers and fans alike while Gatlin took a muted lap of honour, means Bolt is still the hero of the piece in arguably the most exciting era of sprinting ever.