Bolt v Gatlin – I was there. This is my crowd eye view

The night of Saturday 5 August 2017 was one of the biggest ever in sport. The fastest human on earth, one Usain Bolt, was running his last individual 100m and an expectant crowd, including my good self, watched a dramatic evening unfold. But for me, a massive sports fan, it wasn’t all about the big man.

Jo-Gunston-at-London-Stadium-ft

Having spent many hours at the London Stadium during rehearsals for my role as a dancer in the London 2012 opening ceremony, this place is my happy place. I didn’t expect to hear boos in it.

I had a wonderful night at the athletics last night. Wonderful. I came out buzzing after watching a night full of drama, thrills and spills, disappointments, feel-good performances, big shocks – just a microcosm of life. Fabulous.

Or did I?

According to Twitter I was watching the end of the athletics, the biggest disaster in the sport, fans were booing – we just might desert the sport in droves…

Blimey. Glad I didn’t realise that while I was happily cocooned in the stadium thoroughly enjoying myself.

Planning ahead
I booked tickets months ago to see Usain Bolt in his last ever individual 100m race – my boyfriend and I doing a 300-mile round trip from Sheffield for the night.

We’ll be doing the same this coming Saturday for his last EVER, ever race – but my oh my was this night packed with drama.

Sport is my life so yes I’ve been to many a duff event – this was not one of them.

Katarina Johnson-Thompson shot put London 2017

Did you know when you see an athlete on the telly that the camera is literally right in their face? All this while the stadium compere discusses over the tannoy her disappointing high jump that morning. Pressure, much.

First up I watched closely as Briton Katarina Johnson-Thompson headed into the stadium for the third of seven events in the heptathlon.

Earlier that day a disappointing high jump – her best event – left her likely out of an expected medal placing. Would her head drop, I wondered.

Not a bit of it. The 24-year-old Liverpudlian was first out, first to warm up and first to pick up her shot put – she was ready to go.

We loved that and cheered and clapped manically to let her know we were behind her and had got her back. We loved it even more when she responded by smiling and applauding us back.

Heat is on
The 100m heats provided the crowd with a new British sprinter to cheer. Reece Prescod’s second-place finish in the semi final of the blue riband event had us all looking at each other thinking, who he?

The 21-year-old would come an amazing seventh in the world, SEVENTH IN THE WORLD in the drama-filled final. Wonderful. But more of that later…

London-Stadium

You can’t tell me there’s a better stadium in the world than the London Stadium. Well, you can but I wouldn’t agree with you!

My boyfriend tells me the big favourite is struggling in the men’s discus, but without the benefit of TV pundits, the characters remain anonymous, so my focus is purely on their athleticism. A satisfying whump sounded every so often, with discuses landing on the plush grass after slicing through the air.

We roared on medal-hopeful Laura Muir plus fellow Brits Laura Weightman, and Sarah McDonald through the heats of the 1500m – all making it through to the semi-final despite an absolutely stacked field with the likes of Dibaba, Hassan, Semenya and Kipyegon enough to put the fear into any athlete.

Fan’s view
We were sat directly opposite the finishing line of the 100m straight, a position I was familiar with having been in the same place while being lucky enough to have been a spectator at probably the best night British athletics has ever seen, Super Saturday at London 2012 when I watched as Jess Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah win Olympic gold.

London-Stadium-Athletics-world-champs-2017

A few other lucky souls who were lucky to be there for Usain Bolt’s last individual race.

On this side of the stadium you have a wonderful interaction with the long jumpers as they turn to the crowd, encouraging us to clap along to their rhythm to aid their jump.

Watching South Africa’s Luvo Manyonga win the event before falling backwards into the sand to make sand angels made us all smile. If we’d have known his back story of overcoming social drug abuse just a few years ago there might even have been a few tears. Yeah, okay, that may just have been me…

Ladies-celebrate-Ethiopia-runner-Almaz-Ayana

Where Mo Farah’s 10,000m run was a fight to the line just a few days earlier, the crowd was awed by Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana who smashed the women’s event.

Three ladies in front of me roared on Ethiopian runner, Almaz Ayana, who thoroughly smashes the rest of the 10,000m field.

We gave her a standing ovation at the end, oblivious to concerns from the athletics community about Ethiopia’s alleged lackadaisical doping procedures.

When you’re there, in the moment, a fan of sport, just watching the achievements unfold in front of you, you just presume if the world governing body is allowing athletes to compete, then you just watch the raw sport, unencumbered by knowledge from insiders. You just enjoy it.

Kat gets the cream
One of my faves KJT appears again and we cheer her with all our might as we spot her walking towards our end of the stadium for the start of the 200m, the mid-point of the heptathlon. She grins broadly.

We roar her round the track as she comes in first by a streak. We ignore the points system and put her back in with a chance of a medal just from watching this race alone. We are all experts.

And then… the crowd roars. It’s too early for athletes to come out for the final event so we wonder what the blazers is going on. It all becomes clear when we see a Life of Brian-type streaker pelting down the 100m track, long hair trailing down his bare back.

A steward tackles the hairy soul and I can’t help but wince when they both pile into the turf.

The security was obviously terrible but you know what, it just made us smile. An already excitable bunch ahead of the last event, the tension was starting to rise and this chap just gave us an amusing outlet for our emotions.

And so to the aforementioned last event – the 100 metres final.

The athletes were introduced one by one and this, this is how Usain Bolt makes you feel – happy. Just happy.

I put this video on my Facebook page. Ten seconds later…

Usain Bolt Jo Gunston

I watch the race, thinking that Bolt has crossed the line first as his tall frame is the most visible. But the crowd reaction confuses me – it’s subdued.

My boyfriend watches the first 90m of the race before switching quickly to the big screen to see the race end.

‘It’s Coleman,’ he says.
‘But Bolt…’ says I.
‘It’s Coleman,’ says he.
‘But what about Bolt?’
‘He’s second, I think.’
‘But Bolt…’ say I.

I was at the 100m final at London 2012 and the roar as Bolt crossed the line was deafening. The silence of this result was deafening too.

All eyes turned to the stadium screens to see confirmation of the result.

It was Gatlin – two-time drug cheat Justin Gatlin – the worst person who could ruin Bolt’s swansong.

Second placed Christian Coleman, a 21-year-old American would have been better – the next generation rather than the dope generation winning out. But Gatlin? The crowd’s disappointment was palpable even before the booing started.

Booing the boo-ers
I hate the booing. I turn round and frown at the boo-ers but they are all around me. Booing has no place in sport, whatever the situation. If you really have to show your displeasure at least don’t boo then turn to your neighbour and giggle. It’s not funny.

It’s not funny that Gatlin has been caught cheating twice. It’s not funny that of the 30 fastest 100m times ever only nine were achieved by a clean athlete – all Bolt. It’s not funny I’m writing all these words about a cheater when the best athlete ever was signing off.

Boo if you’re angry, if you must. Boo because you’re disappointed if you really have to but this isn’t some reality-show pantomime.

Nothing’s all good or all bad. Sport is a microcosm of life: Heroes, villains, drama, twists and turns, messy, glorious sport.

I came out buzzing despite Bolt’s loss; a night full of drama and I loved every minute of it.

Author: Jo Gunston

Roving blogging superfan shares behind the scenes stories of her sports life and the best of those from like-minded souls.

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