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Given this was once a country of incorrigible baton-droppers, the British men’s relay team restored national pride in the most emphatic and improbable style last night with a gold medal to gatecrash Usain Bolt’s showpiece send-off. The juxtaposition of Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake jumping for joy as a tormented Bolt cursed a strained hamstring is one that will remain seared upon the minds of all who saw it.
Seldom has an evening of sport culminated in such an emotional maelstrom. Bolt must have played the script over in his head a dozen times: one more Saturday night gold, for old times’ sake, for the ultimate showman. Except the quartet of Mitchell-Blake, Chijindu Ujah, Adam Gemili and Daniel Talbot would have none of it. Running down the Americans in the closing strides, they produced Britain’s first 4 x 100 metres gold at world championships and the first ever by a host nation.
Bolt, prone and distraught on the track, was left to endure an exit as undignified as it was controversial. The finest champions are not defined by their last moments in the field of battle, but as heartbreakers go this was Donald Bradman’s duck at the Oval to the power of 100. It looked at first like the infernally-timed breakdown of his ageing legs, but each of Bolt’s team-mates argued that he had suffered a cramp brought on by unnecessary delays.
Bolt and Farah say farewell at World Athletics Championships - in pictures
The man of the moment had been waiting interminably while the last medal ceremonies were conducted, which Yohan Blake claimed had contributed to cramp. “They were holding us too long in the call room,” Blake said. “Usain was really cold. In fact he said to me, ‘Yohan, this is crazy – 40 minutes and two medal presentations before our run. We kept warming up and waiting, and I think it got the better of us. We were over-warm.” Bolt, for his part, headed to the treatment room and left the scene without a word.
For four young British sprinters, however, this was a triumph of which they could scarcely have dreamt. The astonishment was writ large on their faces. Gemili was supposed to be the forgotten man of London 2017, not even selected for an individual event, and here he was a world champion. Mitchell-Blake had been in pieces barely 48 hours earlier, when he was squeezed out of a medal in the 200m by fractions, and now he was toasting an anchor leg to glory. Who was writing this material? Assuredly nobody Jamaican.
Amid febrile scenes at the Olympic Park, the British collective produced stunning individual efforts and seamless changeovers to thwart the US favourites in a time of 37.47 seconds, the fastest in the world this year and the quickest by a European since 1999. Mitchell-Blake had everything to do in bringing it home and yet he tore past Christian Coleman, the silver medallist, like a man possessed.
“The feeling of euphoria was from infinity,” Mitchell-Blake said. “I wasn’t sure if I had won or not. I gave it my all, but I could see Christian out of the corner of my eye. I can’t register it. We smashed the British record to pieces.”
Gemili’s smile, one sensed, would stay fixed in place for days. He has experienced his share of turmoil in these settings, not least when he missed out on 200m bronze in Rio last summer by one hundredth of a second, but this was the richest recompense. “It is so special to come back,” he said, shaking his head in wonder. “Crazy.”
Talbot explained that that the grim comedy of errors that characterised their display in this stadium at the London Olympics in 2012 had been a motivating factor. On that occasion, Britain did not even reach the final, after bungling the first changeover in the heat between Christian Malcolm and Dwai Chambers. Their determination to atone here was palpable.
For Bolt, the pain was too much for him to articulate initially. A loss to Justin Gatlin over 100m he could take, just about, but to suffer this ignominy in front of a crowd willing him to one more wondrous flourish was the cruellest twist. Julian Forte, his Jamaican team-mate, at least had the decency to try to balm the wounds, reflecting: “Usain kept apologising to us but we told him there was no need.”
On an unforgettable evening for relays, that symbol of athletic kinship, the British women’s line-up of Asha Philip, Desiree Henry, Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita also weighed in with an unlikely silver, holding off Jamaica by a mere seven hundredths. Delirium coursed through them as they set off on their lap of honour. While bronze at the Olympics had been a watershed success, but was an accomplishment of a different magnitude from a team with an average age of 22.
Asher-Smith, who has recovered from a fracture to her right foot, said: “To upgrade from Olympic bronze to world silver with these girls has been absolutely incredible, and to do it at home means so much. We are so proud to win the medal in London.”
Hers was a sentiment that would echo long through the Stratford night, even if the pleasure of the unexpected was tempered by the manner of Bolt’s goodbye. It was hard not to suppress the thought, as he headed off to his life of unlimited Jamaican leisure, that he deserved better.
The moment none of us wanted to see
The studio team covering the championships suspect Bolt was undone by a hamstring injury in the closing stages of the 4x100m relay. He won't leave these championships with many happy new memories, but undoubtedly retires as one of, if not, the greatest athlete of all time.
— Ross Tucker (@Scienceofsport) August 12, 2017
The look on his face...
Not how we pictured it
We were expecting gold for both Farah and Bolt, not a silver and a DNF - these unpredictable championships took another dramatic twist tonight. Thank god it's only one day left, not sure my nerves could take more!
Huge moment for Great Britain
These championships have delivered incredible drama at every turn.
Mitchell-Blake made holding off Christian Coleman so easy. Second gold medal for Britain in the fastest time of the year - 37.4 seconds.
Horrible to see a DNF against Jamaica, mind.
Nobody wanted to see Bolt limp off the track
Great Britain win in the third fastest time in history, a sensational performance, but Bolt's injury has cash a shadow.
Gold for Great Britain, but Bolt pulls up injured!
A new British record, but in truth, the event has been marred as Usain Bolt pulls up injured on the anchor leg.
Nathaneel Mitchell-Blake ran an incredible final leg, but the greatest ever athlete pulled up injured in his final track appearance.
Bittersweet to say the least.
They're on the blocks now
Jamaica have wheeled out their A-squad featuring Omar McLeod, Yohan Blake, and of course Usain Bolt.
It'll take something special for anyone to beat Bolt and co. but the combination of Gatlin and Coleman might just be able to provide exactly that.
Style points for Jamaica
A few questionable routines before Bolt and co. enter and treat the crowd to a choreographed shuffle before stepping onto the track.
The United States greeted by boos - It would have taken some special choreography for Gatlin to be greeted by anything other than boos.
Predictions from Michael Johnson
The 200m and 400m great predicts that the United States will win it outright.
Behind them, he says he expects Britain to go into the home straight in second place, but it's simply a question of whether or not Nathaneel Mitchell-Blake can hold off Usain Bolt on the anchor leg.
Can Britain challenge?
Britain named an unnamed relay team for tonight's final. They were second fastest, behind only the United States in qualifying for tonight's final.
Can they follow the women's example and add to Britain's medal tally?
Brits in action | Men's 4x100m relay team
The 5,000m final medal ceremony has just finished, meaning that the last event of the evening will be underway shortly.
Preview | Men's 4x100m relay final
Fastest man in history - In numbers
Can Usain Bolt add one more gold medal to his already glittering career? He'll be adding to an incredible list of accolades if the Jamaican quartet can win tonight.
Usain Bolt | Best and last results in major championships
The man to replace Bolt?
Christian Coleman looks like the most likely candidate to pick up the mantle over the next few years, but any of these sprinters could find themselves in the mix to establish sprint supremacy.
The men fighting to replace Usain Bolt
Ten minutes until Bolt bows out
As if anyone needed reminding, here's a quick look at the life and career of the fastest man in history.
Profile | Usain Bolt
Silver for GB
Brilliant stuff from Asher-Smith et al to secure Britain's third medal of these championships.
You can follow the 4x100m women's relay right here, where Britain are in with a medal chance.
After that, it's Bolt time...
#Boltdown is undoubtedly one of the worst hashtags going but that countdown clock is helpful. He's in the stadium.
Looking back on 2012
Of course the last time Jamaica ran a Men's 4x100m final in this London stadium, this happened.
Under an hour to go...
21:50 UK time is when you need to be in front of a screen somewhere, as Bolt alongside teammates Omar McLeod, Julian Forte and Yohan Blake, with Bolt naturally running the final leg.
Countdown to Bolt's final farewell
What is it?
It's the 4x100m relay at the London 2017 World Championships. It will also be Usain Bolt's last race.
When is it?
It's on Saturday August 12 - ie today!
What time will it start?
The men's 4x100m final is due to begin at 9.50pm.
What TV channel is it on?
It will be on BBC One. Coverage of the evening session begins at 18.30, ending at 22.10 to take in the men's relay.
What is the latest news?
Usain Bolt started the final countdown to his retirement by guiding Jamaica through to the 4x100m relay final this morning.
The eight-time Olympic champion anchored the squad to victory in the second heat.
Jamaica finished in 37.95 seconds - slower than Great Britain and the USA from the first heat - but will be expected to challenge for the podium in tonight's final - Bolt's last race of his career.
Usain Bolt's individual 100m farewell: 20 of the best pictures
Great Britain - with Danny Talbot, Adam Gemili, Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake and CJ Ujah - qualified second behind the USA in 37.76secs in the first heat with Talbot hunting a medal.
"Definitely, that's what we focus on, that's what we want to do. It's a great time to do it in front of a home crowd so hopefully we can do it this evening," he told the crowd during a trackside interview.
The women's squad of Dina Asher-Smith, Asha Philip, Desiree Henry and Daryll Neita qualified in a season's best of 41.93 seconds by finishing second, also behind the USA.
Philip said: "We definitely embraced the opportunity. None of us competed here in 2012 so to have this crowd is breathtaking. They really carry you around over every changeover."
What are they saying?
"For me it's hard to be sad because of the energy I am getting from the crowd, I just feel happy and blessed.
"It's been brilliant, the energy in the stadium is outstanding. I knew it was going to be like this, I appreciate you guys coming out and supporting not just me but the whole World Championships."
What's our prediction?
Jamaica won gold in Rio last summer and it's difficult not to back Bolt to bow out on a high in London this time around.