wacky races indeed

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Yes, we adore and idolise our sporting heroes but for every whiter-than-white Jessica Ennis Hill and holier than thou Chris Hoy, there’s a bad-boy waiting in the wings for us to silently root for. I’m thinking of the likes of original madman Ty Cobb who hated everyone and spared not even his own teammates the pointy-ends of his sharpened spikes; of Iron Mike Tyson who prior to his rebirth as a loveable and funny-ish former athlete had the completely justified reputation as the ‘Baddest of Bad Men on the Planet’ both inside and outside the ring; Let’s not forget figure skater, Tonya Harding, who put the hit out on Nancy Kerrigan before the 1994 US Championships: Or our very own Sir Wiggo of Bradley now forever TUE-tainted; And action hero Vinnie Jones who received twelve red cards during his career, including the fastest one in football history, when he was sent off only three seconds into a match. God bless ‘em all.

And when the good meets the bad the stakes are raised to the downright ugly in a series of set-to’s only bettered on the silver screen by Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed: Arrogant Chris Eubank vs mild-mannered Nigel Benn; Loveable rogue James Hunt vs mechanical Niki Lauda; Son of his Father Damon Hill vs megalomaniac Michael Schumacher: Posh-toff Seb Coe vs temperamental, money-grabbing Steve Ovett; Mercurial Muhammad vs grill-king George.

And so the list continued to last week’s battle of good vs evil in the 100m race at the athletics World Championships. In the white corner, everyone’s anointed one, Usain Bolt, in the final send-off race of his career. In the black corner, the running equivalent of Wacky Races’ Dick Dastardly, drug cheat, pariah and all-round bad-egg, Justin Gatlin. Two weeks shy of his 31st birthday, all Usain wanted was one last hurrah before being able to enjoy chicken nuggets every day for the rest of his life, but Gatlin had the gall to spoil the party. Was what he thinking?

This was surely the moment athletics had been dreading. Having been brought to its knees by doping scandal after doping scandal, athletics needed Usain to bonk Gatlin on the head again with the rubber mallet of defeat and bow out centre stage to the tune of ‘clean rules, dope loses’. Again. But as we all know it didn’t quite follow the script. What did go to plan, and has done so for the last ten years, to the benefit of both athletics and Usain was the pantomime billing of the two of them. And everyone concerned has benefited financially and commercially from this. Everyone that is apart from us, the audience.

Sadly, however, the 35 year old American has twice been allowed back to international competition, awarded a lucrative but shameful contract with Nike, and now adorned with a gold medal. As a symbol of the corruption of sport, there’s no denying that Gatlin sits atop the podium. Mind, lest we think Gatlin’s the only bad-boy out there, only nine of the thirty fastest 100m times in history have been recorded by a clean athlete, Usain himself, and get this, of the eight runners in the 100m final at London’s 2012 Olympics, Gatlin was one of FIVE runners who had tested positive for performance-enhancing dope! Bolt’s departure makes it harder for sport to pretend otherwise.