Kyle Langford feels aggrieved. Denied world 800m bronze in his home city by just 0.04 seconds, he has good reason to be. At the time he assumed he had been beaten by the better man when Kenya's Kipyegon Bett dipped inches ahead of him to snatch the final spot on the podium. It is only now, more than a year on, that a more complex, controversial story has emerged.
A fortnight ago, Bett was banned from athletics for four years after first evading drugs testers in February and then testing positive for the blood-boosting hormone erythropoietin (EPO) five months later. Every one of his results from the day of that first missed test have been scratched from the record books. But the bronze medal he claimed at the 2017 London World Championships remains his as there is no evidence of any wrongdoing at the time of that race.
Those six months from making the podium in August 2017 to cheating in February 2018 make all the difference. “For me, that’s wrong,” says Langford.
Still a relative newcomer to international athletics at the age of 22, Langford regards the medal as stolen. It would have been the first global medal of his career and he is unapologetic in his opinion of those who gain success through illegal means. Cheats ruin sport, he says.
But in a remarkable show of maturity, he holds no grudge against the Kenyan who took a moment Langford can never get back.
“If Bett was to come up to me, say sorry and try to shake my hand I’d say thanks, take the apology and shake it,” says Langford.
“There are no hard feelings. I’m not going to be bitter about it. I should have beaten him anyway, whether he was on drugs or not.
“It’s difficult because I don’t like cheats, but in a weird way I understand his point of view. He’s grown up in a really bad environment and had nothing – a little bit of money will go such a long way.
“For me it’s taken away that moment, but I try not to be biased and look at it from different ways. I don’t not like him. It happens.”
If not for Bett's doping ban, Langford would have no desire to dredge up a race from so long ago. Things have moved on and much of the living room carpet in the Sussex house he shares with his girlfriend, fellow British athlete Ellie Baker, is covered in box-fresh kit thanks to a recent delivery of running gear. In one corner, boxes of training clothes are yet to be opened, in another corner the latest used load hangs up to dry, and outside the washing line is full of even more.
Aside from the small tank housing his one-year-old tortoise Dennis, there is almost nothing unrelated to athletics in the room.
It is difficult to envisage many other people being so level-headed and calm in a similar situation but, with no shortage of self-confidence, Langford expects his London near-miss to be a blip in the career of the greatest 800m runner in history – “I want to surpass Seb Coe, surpass David Rudisha and be the best,” he says.
It is a bold statement from a man who few – but, crucially, not himself – expected to come so close to a world podium in London.
A 50-1 shot to even make the final and having required a fastest loser spot to advance from the heats, Langford sat last of the eight finalists as they entered the finishing straight to shoot it out for a medal. Then he started to motor.
As those in front began treading water, Langford maintained his speed and passed them one by one. Eighth became seventh, sixth, fifth and fourth as he gobbled up his rivals in a matter of metres, only for the line to come to Bett’s aid in the nick of time. Another couple of strides and he would have beaten the Kenyan.
“I could have got a bronze medal in front of my home crowd,” says Langford. “I would have been Britain’s only other individual-event medallist along with Mo [Farah]. But I didn’t get that.”
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As well as that honour, there would also have been the profile boost and significant financial rewards that come with a global medal – money that Langford has had to make do without.
Yet he is not the type of person to wallow over a missed opportunity. Many miles from the Watford family home he left a couple of years ago, he relishes his athletics-centred life in a sleepy, Sussex village “full of old people”, especially with the greater independence afforded by passing his driving test a couple of months ago.
After narrowly missing 800m gold when finishing second at this year’s Commonwealth Games, he endured more frustration when injury forced him to end his season early in July. That necessitated an extended break before returning to training as the winter approached in his bid to become the best in the world.
“I hope Rudisha comes back to his best because I would love to race him again and beat him,” he says.
“I’ll be disappointed if I don’t win gold at the World Championships next year, but it’s the year after that’s going to matter. Everything on and off the track is just putting bricks into a tower to win Olympic gold.”
Achieve that and the missing London 2017 bronze will be long forgotten.