The World Athletics Championships-2017 will be remembered more for the disastrous swan-song of two all-time greats than for the exploits of those who actually crowned themselves with glory. After all, it is not usual for two immortals to walk into their twilight in a span of less than 24 hours of each other.
Of course, there are precedents. For instance, Australian cricket was in a state of stupor when three of its biggest names – Greg Chappell, Dennis Lillee and Rodney Marsh – retired in one go. But then we are talking of sporting immortals the likes of which may not set ablaze the tracks for a long time to come. Taken under any yardstick, Usain Bolt and Mo Farah will be up there all alone for the simple reason that the two were ‘The’ summits in their chosen categories.
It is not that the world has not seen legends in their lifetime or athletes, who achieved immortality with their majestic showings. But the charm of these two outstanding athletes is that neither got carried away by the superstardom that came their way. They remained true to their impoverished roots and were humanity personified after a sensational conquest or modest when they lost, which, anyway, can be counted on one’s fingertips.
Sadly for them, and millions of fans across the globe, curtains came down on their exemplary careers like a heartrending Greek Tragedy. The manner they bowed out may not render poetic justice, as such, but the sorrowful exits can in no way diminish their flair for excellence and how they rose to the pinnacle of glory with a perfect blend of an inborn talent, the determination to conquer and rule the world on their terms and a distinctive stamp of genius.
Moreover, it is not for the first time that two hugely gifted sportspersons have walked into history on a disappointing note. Mohd Ali lost his last professional bout. For all his herculean and impeccable track-record, Don Bradman’s last Test innings score was a bizarre zero, something unheard of during his career when he rewrote the record books almost as a matter of routine.
It was ditto for Michael Jordan. There have been innumerable such bad endings. If these stalwarts had emotional tear-jerkers for send-offs, there were some icons who bowed out in controversy, shame and notoriety. The brilliant career of Diego Maradona met with a doped-out finish while the playing days of Zinedine Zidane ended in shame when he head-butted Marco Materazzi. In this bracket come the likes of Lance Armstrong, Ben Johnson and Mike Tyson.
Bolt’s warning to drug cheats exemplifies his quest for a cleaner sport. In a world where heroes are hard to come by, particularly those maintaining an amazing record in longevity, one celebrates what stupendous men like Bolt, Farah, Bradman, Ali, Jordan, Jesse Owens, Pele, Mark Spitz, Ian Thorpe, achieved while being the epitome of grace and humanness in true Olympian spirit. One is blessed that they leave behind legacies that can be revered for eternity.