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Bowie and Gatlin disrupt Jamaica’s prolonged sprint dominance

Jaime C. Harris | 8/10/2017, 9:46 a.m.
One event doesn’t define the future of sprinting in track and field.

One event doesn’t define the future of sprinting in track and field. But perhaps the 2017 IAAF World Championships do foreshadow what is to come over the next several years. After a decade of demonstrable superiority, particularly on the men’s side, Jamaica’s dominance has been disrupted at one of track and field’s most consequential gatherings.   

This past Saturday, Brooklyn-born Justin Gatlin, at 35 years old, defeated the once indomitable Usain Bolt in the 100-meter finals with a winning time of 9.92. It was Gatlin’s first 100-meter world championship title since 2005 and Bolt’s first loss in a 100 final in more than four years, when he was defeated by Gatlin in June 2013 in a race in Rome, Italy.

Sunday, the United States’ Tori Bowie, who settled into the blocks for the women’s 100-meter final as a stated underdog to Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the event and justifiably anointed new queen of women’s sprinting, stunned the nearly 60, 000 spectators at London Stadium in England when she surged in the last 20 meters and furiously leaned at the finish line to capture first place in 10.85

“I had no idea,” Bowie said after the thrilling ending, uncertain she had won until a photo finish confirmation. “All I knew was I wanted to give it everything I’ve got. Am I really world champion?”

The 26-year-old from Sand Hill, Miss., the silver medal winner in the 100 at the Rio Olympics last August, coming in second to Thompson, ended an impressive stretch for the 25-year-old from Manchester, Jamaica. In Rio, Thompson became the first female sprinter to win both the 100- and 200-meters at the Olympics since Florence Griffith Joyner accomplished the feat in Seoul, South Korea in 1988. Subsequently, Thompson has patently been the pre-eminent sprint figure on the women’s circuit, including running 10.71, the world’s fastest women’s 100 this year, at the Jamaican national championships in late June.

She was maintaining Jamaica’s firm eight-year hold on the 100 that began at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. There, the country celebrated taking the gold, silver and bronze, followed by Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce’s triumph at the London Games in 2012. But Sunday, Thompson failed to fire out of the blocks as Marie-Josee Ta Lou of the Ivory Coast seized control of the race early.

Eighty meters in, Ta Lou appeared to be the woman who would engineer a surprise win, but Bowie’s breakneck lunge at the line, as she and Ta Lou crossed simultaneously—with Bowie tumbling onto the track—ultimately put her atop of the podium. Ta Lou, who briefly thought she was the victor, was clocked in 10.86. Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands, the 2015 world champion, was third in 10.96.

As for Thompson, she uncharacteristically labored from beginning to end and wound up fifth in a time of 10.98. It was slightly different for Bolt, a global star who is inarguably the greatest male sprinter of all time. The winner of every individual Olympic and world championships final in the 100 and 200 that he has started—Bolt was disqualified for a false start in the 100 at the 2011 world championships—he couldn’t walk down the United States’ 21-year-old Christian Coleman (second in 9.94), who burst out of the starting blocks, and was unable to hold off Gatlin’s frantic push over the last 30 meters of the battle.

It was a disappointing end for Bolt and his legions of fans, as last year he announced that London would be his retirement party. “It doesn’t change anything for me,” Bolt said. “I think I lost the race to a great competitor.”

Unlike Thompson, Bolt decided not to compete in the 200 at these world championships. But both he and Thompson are slated to run in the men’s and women’s 4x100 meter relays, respectively, Saturday. It could be two more Jamaican gold medal performances or further affirmation the sprint tide might finally be turning.