Usain Bolt defeats Justin Gatlin by one-hundredth of a second


There’s no event in sports that carries a speed-to-drama ratio quite like the 100-meter dash. Years of hopes, dreams, ambitions validated or dashed in less time than it’s taken you to read this paragraph.

On Sunday at the world championships in Beijing, the United States’ Justin Gatlin and Jamaica’s Usain Bolt faced off for the first time since 2013. Gatlin, heavily favored, was riding a streak of 28 straight unbeaten 100m races, but lost to Bolt by one-one hundredth of a second.

Gatlin had come into the race the favorite, carrying a season best of 9.74 seconds. Bolt’s time of 9.79 seconds would not have beaten Gatlin’s earlier semifinal time of 9.77 seconds. Gatlin appeared to have control of the race early, starting even with Bolt and gaining an edge on the Jamaican. But Gatlin seemed to start his lean an instant too early, and Bolt was able to power across the finish line in an edge too narrow for the naked eye.

How close was Bolt’s margin of victory? An eyeblink takes a tenth of a second. Bolt’s edge over Gatlin was ten times faster than that.

Gatlin has been twice suspended for illegal substances, including a four-year suspension that ran from 2006 to 2010. But his continued strong performances have provoked speculation and criticism, much to his frustration. “There’s no end to this,” he told Sports Illustrated earlier this year. “I served my time. I did my punishment. I sat out four years and here I am, still getting punished for something that happened to me, literally, a decade ago.”

Allegations of doping are always present in track and field, and Jamaica in particular has been hit hard with failed drug tests at every turn. Bolt has maintained that he is running clean, and the crowd’s reaction at the Bird’s Nest in Beijing was strongly in his favor.

Bolt is 29, Gatlin 33, so it’s worth noting that the two third-place finishers, Trayvon Bromell and Andre de Grassse, are both just 20 years old. The American and Canadian, respectively, ran identical 9.92 times, showing that the future of track and field is healthy indeed.

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