LONDON: Usain Bolt took a last leisurely stroll around the track, placed his hands over his heart and then pointed toward the stands, where barely a soul had left.
The running had been over for nearly 30 minutes. As always, though, Bolt had a way of making everybody stay.
The world championships came to a melancholy close Sunday with an on-track tribute to the man who made the sport fun again. There were 11 gold medals at stake on a frenetic final day in London, and yet it was the sight of the hobbled champion walking slowly around the track stopping to kneel at the starting lines for the 100m and 200m races he dominated for a decade that made for the evening’s best theatre.
“I think I almost cried,” Bolt said. “I was just saying goodbye. That was it. Saying goodbye to my events. Saying goodbye to everything.”
The United States said goodbye to London in possession of 30 medals, the most it has ever taken from the worlds. Of those, 10 were gold, including the capper in the women’s 4x400m relay final, where Allyson Felix won her 16th medal to finish as the most-decorated athlete of all-time at the worlds.
Felix also won gold in the 4x100m relay, but the bronze she took in her only individual event, the 400m, makes this a less-than-perfect trip for her.
In that way, she’s got something in common with Bolt. Between the bronze medal in the 100m and the hamstring pull and tumble to the track that ended his anchor leg of the 4x100m relay and still made him wince when he had to negotiate big steps around the stadium the championships went nothing like he planned.
“Someone tried to blame me, and said I started it,” Bolt said of a 10-day run filled with upsets and surprises. “It was just one of those things. It was one of those championships where everything does not go your way.
“It’s been a rough couple of days, and this is a very emotional moment for me,” said the 30-year-old. “I always tried my best and gave 100 percent all the time and above all put on a good show.”
Winners on the final day included Caster Semenya of South Africa, who added the 800m gold to her 1,500m bronze from earlier in the meet.
Kenya enjoyed a successful final blast with Hellen Obiri comprehensively denying Alamaz Ayana a double gold as the 27-year-old Kenyan burnt the 10,000m champion for pace down the back straight of the final lap to ease to the 5,000m title.
Her compatriot Elijah Manangoi led home a 1-2 in the 1500m to turn his silver from 2015 into gold this time round but Asbel Kiprop never looked at the races for a fourth successive title and finished down the field in ninth.
The Americans may have dominated the 10-day competition but there was to be no final flourish as Trinidad and Tobago’s men’s 4x400m relay team ran superbly to take the gold and bring the curtain down on a championships that never failed to surprise.
Sandra Perkovic of Croatia added this latest discus title to her two Olympic golds while Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar won the high jump by clearing 2.35 meters without a miss.
Yang Jiayu of China, Yohann Diniz of France, Eider Arevalo of Colombia and Ines Henriques of Portugal won in race walking. Henriques set a world record in winning the first women’s 50km walk at the worlds in 4 hours, 5 minutes, 56 seconds.
There’s not a household name in the bunch, and though all the performances were remarkable in their own way, this sport’s lack of star power with Bolt out of the mix is hard to gloss over.
“What we’re going to miss about Usain Bolt isn’t the three back-to-back Olympic Games or the clutch of world records and medals,” said Sebastian Coe, the leader of track’s governing body, the IAAF. “It’s because he has an opinion. He has a view. He fills a room. We have terrific talent that’s identifying itself at these championships. But that’s not the same as filling that void, and we have to work at that.”