Usain Bolt, one of global sport’s most marketable personalities, rebounded from his false start in the showpiece 100m final at this year’s world championships to immediately eye four gold medals at the London Olympics next year.
The US topped the medals table after nine days of riveting action at the worlds held in Daegu, South Korea, amassing 25 medals, including 12 gold, eight silver and five bronze, to finish ahead of Russia with 19 medals (9, 4, 6).
However, it was Bolt who once again stole the show, despite a false start on the second day that saw him sensationally disqualified from the 100m final, in which he was defending champion.
The 25-year-old Jamaican, Olympic double sprint champion and world record holder in both events, put that behind him to retain his 200m crown in 19.40 seconds, then the fourth-fastest time ever run over the distance.
He then went on to anchor the Jamaican 4x100m relay team to a new world record of 37.04 seconds in the final event of the Daegu showpiece — and then turned his sights on next year’s Olympic Games in London, where he plans to add the 4x400m relay.
It would give the Jamaican a shot at becoming the first man to win four gold medals in track and field at one Olympics since the US’ Carl Lewis achieved the feat at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
There was more drama in Daegu, when Cuban world record holder and Olympic champion Dayron Robles was stripped of gold in the 110m hurdles.
Robles was adjudged to have obstructed China’s Liu Xiang in the final, with the US’ Jason Richardson taking the honors instead in a gripping race.
A performance to match that of Bolt’s came in the form of Australian Sally Pearson, who scorched to 12.28 seconds — also the fourth-fastest time in history — in the 100m hurdles, the world record of which dates back to 1986.
Bolt and Pearson were awarded the International Amateur Athletics Federation’s (IAAF) male and female athletes of the year awards, something that rankled supporters of Kenyan athletics.
Kenya finished third in the medals table with seven golds, thanks to the east African country’s amazing strength and depth in distance running and a generally underwhelming performance by the Ethiopian team, for whom track legend Kenenisa Bekele failed to fire.
Incredibly, Kenya won seven of the 12 events for men and women from the 800m through to the marathon, accruing 17 of the possible 36 medals on offer.
Star of their show was Vivian Cheruiyot, who notched up the women’s 5,000m and 10,000m double.
Four of the biggest stars to watch in the coming years also emerged from the world championships: Kenyan 800m world record holder David Rudisha, teenage Grenada 400m champion Kirani James, Polish pole vaulter Pawel Wojciechowski and Russian heptathlete Tatyana Chernova.
The worlds were also noticeable for the history-making appearance of South African Oscar Pistorius, who became the first amputee to take part in the championships, making the semi-finals of the men’s 400m.
The double amputee, who runs on carbon prostethic blades, also departed South Korea with a silver medal for being part of the 4x400m relay squad. He ran the heat, but did not compete in the final itself.
Pistorius’ teammate Caster Semenya, who has since chosen Mozambican legend Maria Mutola as her new coach, claimed silver in the women’s 800m, keen to put behind her the doubts over her true gender that erupted after she won gold at the Berlin worlds.