GREATEST GRAND FINAL EVER: Last Second Try, Extra Time Kick Earns Cowboys NRL Premiership Title

Cowboys vs. Broncos. Not to be confused with the match-up from Super Bowl XII in 1978, this was the game that produced arguably the greatest NRL Grand Final ever Sunday night.

North Queensland captured the 2015 NRL Premiership title in thrilling fashion at the ANZ Stadium in Sydney, overcoming a four-point deficit with a last second, siren-beating try by Kyle Feldt followed by the championship-winning kick in extra time by Johnathan Thurston, sealing the 17-16 win.NRL Grand Final 1

Feldt’s miraculous try capped a furious 20 second drive by the Cowboys. Thurston avoided a throng of tackles before swinging the ball right to Michael Morgan, who managed to find Feldt as time expired. Thurston had an opportunity to seal the win with a kick, but his attempt was short and bounced off the iron, sending the contest to a golden-point extra time decider.

The Cowboys earned a big break in the extra session when Broncos’ Ben Hunt bobbled the kick-off catch (or as they say, “knocked-on the kick-off”), giving North Queensland the opportunity to score the golden point. Thurston redeemed himself for the earlier miss by slotting a 20 meter field goal through the uprights to seal the victory.

The dramatic ending earned the Cowboys their first ever championship while also handing Brisbane its first-ever loss in a Grand Final. The Broncos were seeking their seventh Premiership title and first since 2006. Brisbane had beaten their state rivals twice earlier in the season, including a 16-12 decision in the qualifying final three weeks ago.

Sunday’s final marked the first ever all-Queensland meeting for the NRL Premiership title and was only the second in Premiership history to be decided after 80 minutes.

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Rugby Revolution In The Shenandoah Valley

One of my favorite aspects of being a local sports reporter is taking a global sporting event and seeing how it’s making an impact in a small town or city. The Rugby World Cup might be the third-largest sporting event behind the Olympics and FIFA World Cup but the sport has only a niche following in rural Virginia.

Last week, I took a look at how the sport is taking steps, albeit small ones, to gain attention in an area dominated by football and baseball. A club called “Rocktown Rugby” is slowly getting noticed in Harrisonburg, four years after it was founded by an Englishman, Richard Smith.

While James Madison University has a rugby club team, Smith looked to offer Valley residents a chance to participate in the sport. Rocktown Rugby plays against other teams from Virginia in the Capital Rugby Union. The team is a very tight knit group made up of individuals from different backgrounds.

Smith added: “We’ve got people from every walk of life, we’ve got Australians, we’ve got Scottish people, English. We’ve got farmers and builders and bankers and lawyers. There is everybody on this team.”

The club practices at a local middle school twice a week and then plays its games at a field outside another middle school. It’s fitting how schools play a role in the growth of the organization because Smith told me that Rocktown Rugby is working towards setting up youth programs as well as initiatives to get women involved in the game.

Hopefully, a noticeable performance by Team USA in this year’s World Cup will also help stir interest. And there’s talk about setting up a professional league in the United States, but that initiative is still looking for funding. Rugby has a future in the United States, including small towns and cities like Harrisonburg. Patience might be needed though to see that growth play out.

#TBT 2003: Wilkinson Drop Kick Goal Captures Thrilling RWC Final For England

On the eve of the Rugby World Cup starting in England, this #ThrowbackThursday post looks back at England’s thrilling victory over Australia to win the 2003 title.

Let’s set the stage. Telstra Stadium, Sydney. November 22, 2003. Australia, the defending champion, was looking to win the World Cup on home soil. England was looking to become the first squad from the northern hemisphere to capture the Webb Ellis Trophy.

The match was deadlocked at 17 in extra time. In the closing seconds (26 seconds remaining to be exact), Jonny Wilkinson, the youngest member of England’s World Cup squad, became a national hero.

The drop goal to win the World Cup is widely considered England’s greatest sporting moment ever. His journey and that moment became the subject of a recent documentary, called ‘Building Jerusalem’. 2003 remains the country’s only Rugby World Cup title. England finished as runner-up at the 2007 World Cup in France and then lost in the quarterfinals four years later in New Zealand.

As for Wilkinson, the 2003 hero would be impacted by injuries for the rest of his career, retiring from the sport 11 years later. He recently gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph:

The victory brought him… ‘Joy. I would look at that day as one I could happily sign off on and say, “That was me.” An example of a story with a very, very happy ending. The problem being – and this is a massive one – that when you have a happy ending to a film, you never think, “What do these characters do the next morning?” For me, winning the World Cup was a potential danger. And it turned out to be an actual danger.’ By which he means the unfulfillable pressure he felt to carry on being the best player in the world, however, damaged his body.

England is set to host the Rugby World Cup, which begins Friday with the host nation facing Fiji at Twickenham.

15 Years Later, Why Sydney 2000 Is Still ‘The Best Games Ever’

This week marks the 15th anniversary of the Games of the XXVII Olympiad in Sydney, proclaimed by then-IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch as ‘the best Games ever’ when the festival of sport closed on October 1. Fifteen years later, the memories of Sydney 2000 still linger, almost like it was just yesterday.

Who could forget the extravaganza of the Opening Ceremony, created under the direction of David Atkins. Horses galloping onto the stadium floor, the two Koreas marching in during the Parade of Nations as a unified team, Human Nature and Julie Anthony providing arguably the best rendition of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ ever. We followed the spectacle of a young Nikki Webster navigating through the vast history of Australia. We had Olivia Newton John and John Farnham sing to athletes, both present and future, commanding them to “Dare To Dream”. The entire soundtrack of the Opening Ceremony is probably the best ever.

And then of course, the lighting of the Olympic Cauldron by an Aboriginal, Cathy Freeman, who stood in a pool of water as she magically gave us the defining moment of the evening, even if we were all holding our breath as the Cauldron was stuck for several minutes on its way to its final destination.

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And then the competition. Where to begin. How about the showdown in the pool on night one, between the United States and Australia in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay? When Gary Hall, Jr famously said that the American team would smash its rivals like guitars, only to be proven wrong on Australian soil.

ABC Grandstand: Remembering Sydney 2000

There was drama, that’s for sure. Sometimes even controversy. Like when the vault was set too low during the women’s all-around competition in artistic gymnastics. By the time that was fixed, the damage was already done to Russia’s Svetlana Khorkina, who ended up finishing tenth after her nerves were rattled and her night ruined on the vault.

There were upsets. LIke when the Norwegian women’s soccer team famously defeated the Americans in overtime, handing the U.S. its only loss in an Olympic gold medal game ever (Team USA went on to win three straight gold medals to add to the title won four years earlier in Atlanta). Or when the U.S. baseball team defeated an unbeaten Cuban squad.

NBC Olympics: Fifteen Memorable Moments From Sydney 2000 Olympics (By Nick Zaccardi)

The greatest night ever would be known as Magic Monday, when a collection of amazing athletic stories reached their climaxes within minutes of each other. Michael Johnson’s final individual gold medal in the 200 meters, an exciting back and forth competition in the first-ever women’s pole vault, and a frantic race to the finish in the men’s 10,000 meters. But the evening would be remembered for what’s still considered one of Australia’s greatest sporting moments. Cathy Freeman, days removed from lighting the Olympic cauldron as the final torchbearer, creating history again by winning the women’s 400 meter race to the delight of over 100,000 fans at Olympic Stadium.

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Then there’s the moment that would be replayed over and over as what truly embodies the Olympic movement, simply taking part. Equatorial Guinea’s Eric Moussambani swimming alone, after two of his competitors false-started, in the first heat of the men’s 100 meter freestyle. He swam the slowest 100 meters in Olympic history, 1:52.72. But he did what many of us can’t say we’ve done, competed in an Olympics.

There was no shortage of memorable moments from these Olympics. Vince Carter’s monster dunk on the basketball court. The debut of a young swimmer by the name of Michael Phelps. And the farewell to a British rower who captured his fifth gold medal at his fifth consecutive Olympics.

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH (AUS): 15 Moments From The ‘Best Games Ever’

But one could argue that every Olympic Games provides incredible moments. What made these Games ‘the best ever’ was the context that they were held under. These were the dubbed the ‘Games of the New Millennium’. It’ll be a long time until an Olympics can use that slogan again.

They were the last Games that you could probably still watch Primetime coverage on 15-hour tape delay in the United States and still get away with it, as wide-spread use of the Internet and the age of Twitter and instant results were still years away.

More importantly, these were the last Olympics held in an age of innocence. Less than a year later, our world would change completely because of the terrorist attacks on September 11. Every Olympics after that would be held with tight security, sending host city budgets through the roof. The Olympics would always become a target, and lead-up coverage would always have security as a storyline.

The Games, particularly the Summer editions, haven’t been the same since. Athens would be known as the “wait ’til the last minute’ Games as organizers overspent as they rushed to get venues finished. In the end, those venues would become white elephants. Beijing and London were well-organized Games indeed. But China wanted to put on a show, using the Games to establish itself on the global stage. There wasn’t much of a political intent with holding the Sydney Olympics. The city just wanted to put on a party.

Compared to Sydney, London was just, well different. From the logo, to its odd mascot, to the unorthodox way of lighting the Cauldron, it’s ironic how a city so steeped in tradition didn’t really adhere to any when it came to the Olympics. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

But Sydney was truly the last Summer Olympics in an era of grand tradition and prestige. A true sport festival that was held in a city that simply wanted to host it and embrace it. For sixteen days, ‘G’Day Mate’ became the way we said hello. It was a feel-good party held in an exotic land.  Australia is one of the greatest, if not, the greatest sporting countries on Earth. It’s no wonder why they were able to host what’s still ‘The Best Games Ever’.

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Early Look At Race For 2024 Olympics

The deadline for cities to formally submit intentions to bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics is Tuesday. This race will be the first entirely under the direction of the Olympic Agenda 2020 plan, which aims to improve transparency in bidding, reduce costs in bidding and ultimately hosting the Games, and help potential host cities to their advantage, instead of asking cities to build around IOC standards.

The winning city won’t be announced until 2017. Let’s take an early look at the cities who have already entered their name into the race.

PARIS, FRANCE

If the Summer Olympics wish to return to Europe for the first time since London 2012 (marking a gap of 12 years), Paris would be the favorite. The French capital would be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1924 Olympics held there. But that reason alone doesn’t automatically earn an Olympics. Athens felt it deserved the right to host the 1996 Games to mark a century since the first Olympiad of the modern era, but those Games ended up being in Atlanta.

Still, a Paris win would also make that city a three-time host, which would be the first since London. Having the legacy of being an Olympic city goes a long way and the city has an obvious history of hosting great sporting events. Its resume includes the 1999 FIFA World Cup, 2007 Rugby World Cup, 2003 IAAF Athletics World Championships as well as annual events including Le Tour de France and the French Open. A successful bid would rely on using existing infrastructures, with only an aquatics centre and an athletes’ village being the big ticket items that would need to be built from scratch.

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA, USA

Just like Paris, Los Angeles is aiming to be a three-time host of the Olympics. The Summer Games have been held in LA in 1932 and 1984, with the latter considered the most successful financially after turning a profit. Los Angeles wasn’t the USOC’s first choice, but after the Boston bid fell through, LA came to the rescue and will rely on existing venues to host a cost-effective 2024 Olympics. 

The Games haven’t been in the United States since 2002, when the Winter Olympics were held in Salt Lake. The last Summer edition to be held in the U.S. was Atlanta in 1996. With the IOC looking for cities that can host for (relatively) cheap, Los Angeles is considered to be a strong contender, if not the favorite, to win the race. Also considering that the IOC’s relationship with both NBC and the USOC is very strong, LA may be rewarded with the hopes of creating a positive image for the Olympic movement moving forward.

ROME, ITALY

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I’d consider Rome as the dark horse in this race. It’s a solid choice but not exactly the favorite in the race. Rome offers a very historic and cultural setting, with a proposal to hold medal ceremonies inside the Colosseum. The Italian capital has prior Olympic experience as the site of the 1960 Summer Games. Many of those venues would be used again, including the Foro Italico complex that has stadiums for soccer and athletics as well as venues for swimming, which were used when Rome hosted the FINA Aquatics World Championships back in 2009.

But the city is still trying to recover from a recent corruption scandal that has tarnished its image. On the other hand, an Olympics could help re-brand the city and diminish that negative chapter to just a footnote. The city has bid several times for an Olympic Games, most recently for the 2020 Games. Rome withdrew from that race because of poor economic conditions. Italy last hosted an Olympics in 2006, when the Winter Games came to Torino.

HAMBURG, GERMANY

Should Germany be successful in winning its bid to host the 2024 Olympics, it would mark 52 years between Olympics that the nation has hosted. Hamburg has never hosted an Olympic Games but the mayor is marketing the city as a “Gateway To The World” that can pull off a transparent, compact, and modern Games.

The problem is that there isn’t anything that particularly makes Hamburg stick out as an Olympic host city. We’ve heard the buzz words “compact” and “modern” before and “transparent” is a new one to use after Olympic Agenda 2020 was passed. The city is set to hold a public referendum among its residents on November 29.

There’s no question that Germany can pull off a great sporting event. The country hosted the 2006 FIFA World Cup and 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup. It’s currently hosting EuroBasket. Munich was the last German city to host the Olympics, back in 1972, marred by the terrorist attacks on Israeli athletes. Munich previously bid to host the 2018 Olympics, only to lose to Pyeongchang.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

The Hungarian capital hopes to bring the Games to the country for the first time ever. It’s the underdog in the race, and the bid committee is embracing that role. Budapest does have public and government support and looks to prove that it can host an Olympics under the model of Olympic Agenda 2020.

While it’s never hosted an Olympics, Budapest is getting set to host the 2017 FINA Aquatics championships. In addition, Hungary is one of the 10 most successful medal-winning nations to have never hosted the Olympics.

THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS

The key for the IOC is to make sure that it doesn’t lose cities like it did for the 2022 Winter Olympics, which ended up being a two-horse race between Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, with the Games ultimately getting awarded to the Chinese capital.

If there’s anything that’s certain, it’s that these Games are destined to go to either North America or Europe after the three previous Games held before 2024 will be hosted by East Asian cities. And with 2024 possibly becoming a pivotal year for the future of the Olympic movement, look for the IOC to award these Games to an experienced host city that can promise transparency and a profit.

With Fresh Look, Wrestling Takes Center Stage In Vegas

It was only less than three years ago when the prospect of wrestling getting eliminated from the Olympic program became a very real possibility. But as soon as the sport was placed on the chopping block, changes were made to ensure that wrestling, which has been contested at every Olympics in the modern era, would continue to be part of the greatest spectacle in sports.

Those changes are being showcased this week in Las Vegas as wrestling crowns its final world champions before Rio 2016. The city was chosen shortly after the IOC’s recommendation to drop the sport, hoping that the location would help refresh wrestling’s image. The governing body was re-branded from International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA) to a much simpler United World Wrestling (UWW). And Nenad Lalovic took over, leading the sport’s reboot. Lalovic has worked on making wrestling more appealing to television viewers while bettering equality between men and women in the sport.

The U.S. is hosting the world championships for the first time since 2003, with American hopes pinned (no pun intended) on Jordan Burroughs, Olympic champion and current world number one in the men’s 74kg freestyle category.

The two-time champion talked to Fox Sports before the world championships:

“I feel great. This is just a stepping stone for where I want to be in 2016 and I know everybody is prepping for Rio, but any time you get the chance to wrestle for a world championship is a huge event,” Burroughs told FOX Sports. “It will be extremely enjoyable and I’m just worried about bringing a high performance this year, thinking less about the result and more about the performance.

“I know if I wrestle well and if I compete to the best of my ability, I’ll be successful.”

The event runs through Saturday with the top six in each event guaranteeing a spot for their countries in Rio. UWW is live streaming the entire event from Orleans Arena here.

PERFECT TEN: American Eight Capture 10th Straight Major Rowing Title

The United States women’s eight dominated at the World Rowing Championships in Lac Aiguebelette, France over the weekend, defeating the rest of the field by 2.87 seconds, to win its 10th straight global title.

The Americans have won every world championship race since 2006, as well as Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012.

The U.S. women also took gold in the women’s quad event for the first time ever and also took home bronze in the women’s pair. But as Zolan V Kanno-Youngs writes, there hasn’t been much attention to the Americans’ recent success on the water.

Sibling Rivalry: Looking Back at Family Affairs At The Olympics

Serena Williams defeated her older sister Venus in three sets on Tuesday night at the U.S. Open, keeping her campaign for a calendar grand slam in tennis alive as the top-seed advanced to the semifinals.

Surprisingly enough, while the two have combined to win four Olympic gold medals over the last decade and a half, the two siblings have never actually faced each other at an Olympic Games. This had me thinking, what famous sibling rivalries have transpired on the biggest stage in all of sports.

The most recent memory of siblings battling each other are Great Britain’s Brownlee Brothers, who finished gold-bronze at the London Olympics in the men’s triathlon.

There’s the Hamm brothers in gymnastics, but this American set of twins worked more together than did against each other. Paul ended up having more success than Morgan, winning the individual all-around title in 2004.

There were seven sets of siblings competing for the United States at Sochi 2014, breaking the U.S. Winter Games record of six set in 1964. And more often than not, it’s better for siblings to work together as a team. It often brings greater results. Just ask the Williams sisters:

Running Unopposed, Durban Wins 2022 Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games Federation officially awarded the hosting rights to the 2022 Commonwealth Games to Durban, South Africa, marking the first time that the multi-sport festival will be held in the African continent.

Durban was the sole bidder for the games after Edmonton, Canada withdrew earlier this year because of economic woes. The announcement was made at the Federation’s General Assembly in Auckland, New Zealand Wednesday.

South Africa has already hosted the 1995 Rugby World Cup and more recently the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The 2022 Commonwealth Games are scheduled to begin on July 18 – the birthday of the late South African president Nelson Mandela.

The next Commonwealth Games will take place in Gold Coast, Australia in 2018.

Here is the bid video for Durban 2022:

Five Rings: Takeaways From Beijing 2015

Five Rings gives an in-depth look at an event, athlete, or trend in the Olympic sports world and the Olympic movement. In this edition, David DeGuzman looks back at the IAAF Athletics World Championships in Beijing.

What’s great about an event like the IAAF World Championships is the tapestry of stories that take place. Different paths of countless athletes that intersect in a single venue, evolving over the span of nine days. With the Rio Olympics less than a year away, these championships would set the stage and write the prequel for what’s to come in the summer of 2016.

Stories That Inspire

Sport is powerful in many ways and the path to success is different for every athlete. At Beijing 2015, the performances of two athletes in particular will be remembered for how their success on the track was achieved despite obstacles off of it.

Jamaica’s Novlene Williams-Mills ran the anchor leg of the women’s 4×100 meter relay on Saturday, surging from behind the United States in the home stretch to steal gold from the defending Olympic champions. It was a moment of triumph, not just for the Jamaican team, but personally for Williams-Mills, who ran at the London 2012 Olympics with breast cancer. After a fifth-place finish in the 400 meters and a bronze in the relays, she underwent a double mastectomy. Her sister was a victim of ovarian cancer two years prior. Williams-Mills’ heroic leg in the 4×100 relay shows that her amazing story is still being written.

Then there’s Aries Merritt, who as this post is being written is recovering from a kidney transplant. The 30-year-old won bronze in the 110 meter hurdles in Beijing, three months after being told he would need a transplant. The defending Olympic champioin revealed his medical condition in a story published on the IAAF website. Merritt competed with less than 20% kidney function and still managed to get within six hundredths of a second from the gold medal winner, Sergey Shubenkov of Russia.

As for his future? Merritt says he plans to continue competing (via the NY Times):

“It’s definitely going to be very challenging, definitely more challenging than the Olympic final,” Merritt said. “Because I don’t know if I’ll be able to recover and run again. This could be my last time running. Who knows?”

Merritt said that he still had the Rio Olympics in his sights, even though those Games begin in less than year.

“I’m very optimistic about my surgery,” he said. “You might not see me indoors, but hopefully recovery will go to plan and you’ll see me for outdoor season.”

Should Merritt return and make the Olympic team, it would be an incredible ending to what’s already been an inspiring story.

Schippers Becomes A Break-Out Star

The sprint races have been dominated by either the Americans or Jamaicans in recent years. So it’s a bit refreshing to see a European in the mix, even if there’s a cloud of doubt regarding her success. Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands followed up her silver medal performance in the women’s 100 meter final with a gold in the 200 meters, smashing the European record with a time of 21.63 seconds. Three months ago, the Dutch star was solely focused on the heptathlon. Now, it’s safe to say that her sights are set on a sprint gold medal next year in Rio.

London 2012 Wasn’t A Fluke For Team GB

Tell me you haven’t heard this before. Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Greg Rutherford — all winning gold. The only difference between Beijing 2015 and London 2012 is that those three instances didn’t happen on the same day. Nevertheless, the stars of what was Super Saturday at London’s Olympic Stadium proved that their performances weren’t a fluke, finding the same success three years later.

In total, Team GB finished with seven medals, including four golds, one silver and a pair of bronzes. It’s a good sign of things to come for British athletes heading into the 2016 games.

Ashton Eaton Tops Himself

It wasn’t the greatest World Championship meet for the Americans. An early celebration cost one American a bronze medal (benefiting another USA athlete), baton struggles once again plagued the men’s 4×100 meter relay team, and when all was said and done, the United States took home the least number of medals since 2003.

One of the few highlights from Beijing 2015 was that of Ashton Eaton, who managed to beat his own world record with 9,045 points and looks to be the man to beat in next year’s Olympic decathlon as the American seeks to defend his gold medal. Eaton’s performance is even more remarkable considering he hadn’t competed in a full decathlon since the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.

No One Can Take Down Bolt (Except A Segway)

Bolt’s still got it.

There were doubts about whether he would win gold at these World Championships. But now we’ve learned to never doubt him. And it would be a mistake to do so again next year in Rio.

Usain Bolt beat favorite Justin Gatlin not just once but twice, winning gold and defending his 2013 titles in both the 100 and 200 meter sprints. And he again completed a hat trick by adding gold from the 4×100 meter relay. The Jamaican is the greatest track star of our generation, and it’s a sight to enjoy before it eventually ends.

Of course, out of all the things that happened at these World Championships, this might be the most memorable.

Five Rings: Why Sunday’s Men’s 100m Final Was The Best Ever

Five Rings gives an in-depth look at an event, athlete, or trend in the Olympic sports world and the Olympic movement. In this edition, David DeGuzman examines why Sunday’s men’s 100m final in Beijing should be considered the best ever run in the event’s history.

On Sunday, August 23, 2015, nine men took the blocks behind the start line inside Beijing National Stadium. The Bird’s Nest, as the venue is nicknamed, had already hosted incredible history seven years earlier during the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad. But what transpired on this warm evening in the Chinese capital over the span of 9.79 seconds should go down in the record books as the most significant and memorable men’s 100 meter final ever. And the reasons go beyond the much-hyped battle of “good versus evil” that was labeled on the match-up between Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin.

Yes, it’s those two main characters that made the headlines and had Twitter buzzing across the globe. The path both men went through to get to the world championship final already made this race a mouth-watering, must-see event. But considering how the track and field is currently at a crossroads, facing quite possibly the biggest doping scandal in the sport’s history, and then add several subplots from the other contenders in the field, you’ve got a race that was simply made to become an ESPN 30 for 30 film in the near future.

The Road To ‘Bolt vs. Gatlin’

On paper, this race easily appealed to the sprint die-hards of the world. Justin Gatlin won the Olympic gold medal in the men’s 100 meters in Athens before Usain Bolt exploded on to the sprint scene to capture gold in both Beijing and London. And when it comes to world championships, Bolt has never lost a 100 meter race that he’s started, winning in 2009 and 2013 (Bolt was DQed for a false start in 2011, which was won by fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake).

But Bolt entered this year’s world championships as the underdog. Hampered by injuries, Bolt missed the majority of the 2014 season. His only race this year in the lead-up to Beijing was in London, where the Jamaican won the 100 meters in 9.87 seconds after pulling out of Diamond League meets in Paris and Lausaunne.

Even in Beijing, there were doubts that Bolt could defend his world title after nearly stumbling from the blocks in his semifinal heat, forcing him to chase the rest of the field down. Bolt still won his heat in 9.96 seconds, but his performance wasn’t anywhere close to how he dominated opponents in past major meets.

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In Bolt’s absence, Gatlin stole the spotlight and became the favorite. The American (still) holds the fastest time in the world in the 100 meters after sprinting down the lane in a time of 9.74 seconds in Doha back in May. He had never lost a race in either the 100 or 200 meter event since 2013. And while Bolt nearly missed qualifying for the final, Gatlin put on a clinic in his semifinal heat, using a great start to power his way into the final in a time of 9.77 seconds, nearly two-tenths faster that Bolt’s qualifying time.

When the field was set, the notion that Gatlin, not Bolt, was the favorite to win a world championship was clearer than the polluted Beijing sky.

Doping And The Creation Of ‘Good vs. Evil’

Cheating in athletics is nothing new. The 1988 men’s 100m final in Seoul, South Korea is probably the most famous example used when looking back at the history of doping in track and field.

But Sunday’s final came at a time when the sport is at a crossroads. Earlier this summer, investigative reports from both German broadcaster ARD and Great Britain’s The Sunday Times found that 146 Olympic and world championship medals in middle- and long-distance races were won by athletes who recorded suspicious tests. The IAAF responded to those claims, denying the allegations of widespread doping and calling the media reports a ‘declaration of war’ on the sport.

And looking at the field of contenders for the 100 meter race in Beijing, it’s no wonder why the media billed Sunday’s race as a battle of ‘good versus evil’. Tyson Gay served a one-year doping suspension by the United States Anti-Doping Agency after testing positive for anabolic steroids in 2013. He was stripped of his silver medal that he won with the 4×100 relay team at London 2012, with all of his results from July of that year erased from the history books. Bolt said earlier this year that Gay should have been “kicked out of the sport”.

Asafa Powell has also had a history of doping, failing a drug test in June 2013. The former world record holder in the 100 meters was originally sentenced to an 18-month suspension for taking a banned stimulant. But his suspension was reduced to six months on appeal.

Then there’s Justin Gatlin, who served not one, but two separate doping suspensions. His first offense came in 2001 while Gatlin was still in college. The American was handed a two-year ban for taking a banned amphetamine. Then after winning double gold at the 2005 World Championships, Gatlin tested positive for testosterone in 2006. His punishment was originally an eight-year suspension, avoiding a lifetime ban for cooperating with doping authorities. An appeal resulted in getting his suspension cut in half to a four-year sentence, served between 2006 and 2010.

Meanwhile, Bolt has won all his races clean, making him the hero while Gatlin has been labeled as the villain. Headlines leading up to the world championships placed responsibility on the two-time Olympic 100 meter champion to “save the soul of the sport”. As doping became the center of attention of press conferences leading up to the meet, Bolt told the media that he can’t save track and field from doping scandals by himself.

That may be true, but Bolt, as the most recognizable face in track, can certainly lead the fight and change public perception. Whether or not the athletes themselves bought into the notion of ‘good vs. evil’, there’s no question that billing Sunday’s final that way is an easy way to gauge interest. And the sport could certainly use the attention at a time when athletics is facing its biggest public relations obstacle of its time. The stage was set, the future of athletics depended on Bolt delivering on the global stage.

The Stage: The Bird’s Nest

Speaking of stages, there’s no better venue for Bolt to become a hero than the track where he got his start. When he won double gold in 2008, Bolt instantly became one of the biggest headlines to come out of the Olympics that year. And it was the way that he dominated in each of his races, with world records in all three gold medal events, that told us that what we were watching was something special. Bolt is one of those athletes that you only see once in a generation.

It makes sense for a one-of-a-kind athlete to thrive in such a unique a setting as the Bird’s Nest, where a twisted steel facade erected to display China’s prominence on the world stage would house the world’s best athletes. It hid what was really happening in China, where economic issues and a plummeting currency has impacted the global economy during these World Championships.

The parallels are hard to ignore. Both China and Usain Bolt looking to reclaim the dominant image that they once had. And for 9.79 seconds, that’s exactly what would happen.

The Subplots: From China’s Hope To Canada’s Youth

Bolt and Gatlin only made up two of the nine athletes that took the blocks shortly after 9:15 in the evening.

In an event that’s been dominated by Americans and Jamaicans in recent years, the host nation saw one of its own have a shot at history. Su Bingtian became the first competitor from Asia to make a 100 meter final at a world championships, recording a time of 9.99 in the semifinal heats to become part of the final nine in an event that usually only has eight finalists. But France’s Jimmy Vicault also recorded 9.99 in the semifinals, creating a tie for the final qualifying spot.

Then there’s Canada’s Andre De Grasse, an NCAA champion with the University of Southern California who’s having a breakout year in the sport. De Grasse won national collegiate titles in both the 100 and 200 meters, in the span of an hour no less, before claiming double gold again at the Pan American Games on his home soil in Toronto earlier this summer. His achievements have led him to the biggest stage yet, as he becomes Canada’s biggest track star since Donovan Bailey won Olympic gold in Atlanta.

The Race

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So you take all of that context and put it together into an event that takes less than ten seconds to complete and decides who earns the title of ‘World’s Fastest Man’. A classic meeting of former sprint champions. Locked in a battle of good versus evil with the future of the sport at stake. Inside a venue once home to Olympic greatness. With others looking to steal some of the spotlight.

And in 9.79 seconds, it was all over.

A description of how it unfolded, from The Associated Press (via the Chicago Tribune):

That Gatlin burst from the blocks faster was no surprise; Bolt was his typically slow self in unfurling his 6-foot-5 frame from the start.

That Gatlin was winning at the halfway point wasn’t too shocking, either. “The best part of my race is usually the end,” Bolt said.

At 80 meters, the math started changing. Bolt drew to within a step but Gatlin was holding him off.

Then, with about 15 meters left, Gatlin over-strided, then did it again, then started leaning toward the line. Bolt stayed upright, crossed with a big kick and with his chest pushed forward. A sliver of space for a man who wins by body lengths.

In the end, China had someone to root for at the Bird’s Nest. And though Su Bingtian finished last, the Chinese record holder made it hard for others to ignore the roar of the crowd when he was introduced in the field of nine in an event normally reserved for eight.

In the end, we found out the future of the sport may be in good hands, thanks to a young Canadian who made history by getting on the podium, even if he wasn’t alone on the third step. Andre De Grasse ran the 100 meter final in a personal best time of 9.92, tying American Trayvon Bromell, to become the first Canadian to medal at a world championships since 1999. De Grasse, just 20 years old, now faces a decision of whether to stay in school or turn pro and profit on a lucrative shoe scholarship in an Olympic year. Not a bad problem to have for an athlete who could easily be the next face of track and field.

In the end, Bolt prevailed on a night when he faced so much doubt. In the context of how the media constructed this race, good defeated evil, barely. By a hundredth of a second. The soul of the sport saved in the narrowest of victories. But even by the thinnest of margins, Bolt proved that he can deliver on one of the sport’s biggest stages and rise to the occasion. The Bird’s Nest is Bolt’s turf and he defended it. He’s still the king. And with that, Bolt became just the third man to win three world championship titles in the 100 meters, joining Carl Lewis and Maurice Greene.

The story would’ve been different had Gatlin not lost his balance in the closing strides of the race. But that’s what makes the event a spectacle. You don’t know when lightning will strike, but when it does it’s a sight to see.

The men’s 100 meter final at the Beijing 2015 World Championships. It wasn’t the fastest performance in history. But it was the best race ever run in the history of the event.

That is, until next year when two could collide in Rio.

LINKS

BBC’s coverage of the race seemed pretty biased towards Bolt. And Gatlin’s agent noticed. The world silver-medalist will apparently boycott the BBC and the British media. (RadioTimes, Bleacher Report, The Guardian)

Speaking of the BBC, one writer seems to think that Bolt’s win on Sunday was the ‘greatest miracle of all’. (BBC Sport)

How Andre De Grasse’s bronze-medal performance signified the Canadian’s arrival on the global stage. (The Globe and Mail)

Twitter reaction and celebrity reaction to Bolt’s victory. (The UK Independent, FourthOfficial.com)

Why Bolt shouldn’t be considered the ‘savior of athletics” (InsideTheGames.Biz)

Alan Abrahamson on why Sunday’s 100m final wasn’t a morality play. It was, quite simply, an excellent race. (3 Wire Sports)

#TBT: Athletics At Beijing 2008

This week’s Throwback Thursday looks back at the athletics competition from the Beijing 2008 Olympics. This weekend, track and field returns to the Bird’s Nest as the Chinese capital gets set to host the 2015 IAAF World Championships.

When I look back at the track and field action from the Games of the XXVIII Olympiad, five moments stick out to me the most.

1. Lolo Jones goes from first to fourth in the 100m hurdles final.

Talk about devastating. Lolo Jones said after this race that she could feel the gold around her neck when she clipped the second-to-last hurdle. Sadly, the hurdles are very unforgiving and a race that she spent years training for provided a cruel ending.

2. Bryan Clay Captures Decathlon Gold

Bryan Clay captured silver four years earlier in Athens before becoming the first American since Dan O’Brien in 1996 to win the gold in the decathlon. Ashton Eaton would reclaim American gold four years later in London. But it was Clay who sparked the newest generation of United States success in the discipline that crowns “the World’s Greatest Athlete”.

3. USA Women Stage Epic Comeback To Win 4x400m Relay

In one of the more memorable races that I can recall from Beijing, Sanya Richards fought back from behind to lead the United States in the 4x400m relay, defeating Russia in a race that brought back memories of the Olympics during the Cold War era.

I can distinctly remember Tom Hammond on the call for NBC: “Sanya Richards digging deep… She’s straining with every ounce of her fiber… She goes by. Sanya Richards, wins it for the U.S.!”

The victory was redemption for Richards, who failed to win gold in the individual 400 meter race in Beijing.

4. Liu Xiang Disappoints A Nation, Pulls Out Of 110m Hurdles With Injury

Following his memorable gold medal win in the 110m hurdles at Athens 2004, China’s Liu Xiang automatically became THE face of the Beijing Olympics four years later. Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it better. An opportunity to defend gold on home soil.

But in the preliminary heats, Liu Xiang wouldn’t even cross the finish line. In front of a packed crowd at the National Stadium, Liu Xiang grimaced in pain, dealing with an inflamed Achilles tendon. The developments were so big that NBC, which had tape-delayed its coverage of track and field, broke in with live coverage from the morning heats during Primetime coverage as the poster boy of China’s Olympics pulled out of the competition.

5. Usain Bolt Becomes King Of The Sprints

Well, duh. Lightning struck twice in Beijing in the form of Usain Bolt, who didn’t just win the 100 and 200 meter sprints, but dominated, breaking world records in both races. The athleticism the Jamaican showcased was unprecedented. And when all was said and done, Bolt gave us one of the most memorable moments in Olympic history.

And boy are we looking forward to his return at the World Championships.