LONDON — Is it too soon to ask? Usain Bolt, please come back.
The superstar who made athletics fun — and watchable — for the past decade returns to the track for the final time Saturday to run on Jamaica’s 4×100-meter relay team. It will give fans a well-deserved break after five days at world championships that they can only hope isn’t a look into the sport’s long-term future.
The biggest headliner since Bolt left the track last Saturday with an unfathomable bronze medal in the 100 meters: Stomach flu.
In between the drama involving norovirus and Botswana’s Isaac Makwala have been a series of strange races, favorites who didn’t come through and unknowns who did.
Lacking in all that has been someone, anyone, who could at least pretend to enjoy the spotlight that Bolt occupied all alone for nearly a decade.
“It’s one thing to be named among the greats in track and field,” said Wayde van Niekerk, the South African who holds the world record in the 400 meters. “It’s a different thing putting out performances to lay out concrete ground for that recognition.”
Van Niekerk got one performance right. He won the 400 in a breeze after his main contender, Makwala, was barred from the stadium for having a stomach bug he claimed he did not have. But then, the South African came up short in the 200 final. He could’ve produced the first 200-400 sweep at the worlds since Michael Johnson did it 22 years ago. Instead, Ramil Guliyev of Turkey captured the title and Van Niekerk insisted, “I will never try and fill Usain’s shoes, or Michael’s.”
Certainly not Andre De Grasse, at least not at this meet. The Canadian basketball player-turned-sprinter started making a name for himself at last year’s Olympics when he had the temerity to challenge Bolt during the 200-meter semifinals, and Bolt wagged his finger at him .
But De Grasse never made it to the starting line in London, pulling out a few days before the meet with a hamstring injury.
Some of the big names who did race have underwhelmed — or found themselves in awkward circumstances.
—Justin Gatlin, who won the 100 meters where Bolt finished third, was greeted with boos every time he stepped on the track — residue from two doping positives that are far in his past. “I know you have to have the black hat and the white hat, but guys, come on,” said the 35-year-old American, who will be long gone when and if the “next Bolt” ever does show up.