World Athletics Championships 2015: Usain Bolt and Mo Farah help switch focus from test tubes to the track

...but concerns linger over Kenyan success in a sport with plenty still to do

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The Independent Online

Just moments before he was officially handed the IAAF presidency, Lord Coe had said athletics was “more than a discussion about test tubes, blood and urine”.

The build-up to the World Championships in Beijing had been just that: the leaked database of 12,000 blood samples was littered with suspicious readings and the IAAF took action against 28 athletes after samples were re-analysed from the 2005 and 2007 World Championships.

It begged the question as to which medals from these championships would stand in 10 years’ time, after the testers catch up with the cheats.

The IAAF and the World Anti-Doping Agency make no secret of the fact their focus is on Kenya, who topped the table with seven golds and 16 medals in all, ahead of  Jamaica and the United States.

Two of their athletes, Koki Manunga and Joyce Zakary, failed drugs tests in Beijing and have been suspended, pending further investigations. The number of Kenyan athletes testing positive since 2012 has passed now 30.

Things could well get worse before they get better, but already the signs are that there has been an improvement in the battle against doping. Last year, the ARD network in Germany produced a damning documentary that suggested an epidemic of doping among Russia’s leading athletes. At the last World Championships, Russia won 17 medals, this time it was four.

But Coe’s point about “test tubes, blood and urine” was valid and Beijing was a reminder of much that is good about the sport.

Once again, it will be a championships remembered for Usain Bolt, who the majority of people thought was set to be toppled from his sprint throne. In the end, the only person capable of felling him was a Segway-riding  cameraman from Chinese television.

Bolt repeated his feat of Moscow two years ago, his  sprint treble meaning he has won every global title available since he first stepped into the Bird’s Nest in 2008 – bar the 100m world title in Daegu in 2011, which almost certainly would have been his had he not false-started. He now has 11 world titles, three more than Carl Lewis.

His 100m semi-final tumble out of the blocks and scramble to qualify, followed by pipping a stumbling Justin Gatlin by one hundredth of a second in the final, was such theatre one had to wonder whether the IAAF scripted it themselves.

It avoided more unwanted headlines and the prospect of Gatlin, who has twice received drugs bans, being the headline act. Instead, an athlete who had won 29 consecutive races, prior to the 100m final, had to make do with second best in the 100m and 200m before missing out altogether in the 4x100m relay, when the United States were disqualified for an illegal final changeover.

Athletics has relied on Bolt too much as its saviour, Coe himself likening him to Muhammad Ali as a sporting icon, but he was undeniably its star once more.

But there were others:  Dafne Schippers in the 200m, Allyson Felix over 400m and Christian Taylor giving Jonathan Edwards a scare by falling just eight centimetres short of his two decades-old triple jump world record.

And it proved to be a championships to remember for Britain, Mo Farah – much in the mould of Bolt – dominating the distance events to complete a hat-trick of global double-golds dating back to London 2012.

All three of Britain’s stars of Super Saturday three years ago delivered, Greg Rutherford winning the long jump with a best leap of 8.41m to become only the fifth Briton to hold all the global titles – Olympic, World, European and Commonwealth – at one time, a remarkable feat but particularly for an athlete written off as a fluke by many after the Olympics.

But for sheerimpact, both were trumped by Jessica Ennis-Hill as she returned to competition, 13 months after the birth of her son Reggie, to win heptathlon gold.

Just a month ago, she was unsure whether she would even compete, but Britain’s latest Supermum defied the odds, which included a winter and spring curtailed by Achilles problems, for the second world title of her carer.

In truth, it should have been won by Katarina Johnson-Thompson, and might well have been had she landed a legal mark in the long jump. With her third red flag, her chances vanished, the public were robbed of a true head-to-head between Britain’s leading multi-eventers, and the tears flowed.

She had a shot at redemption in the individual event but that was no less painful as she failed to make the top eight. The 22-year-old understandably called it “the worst week of my life”.

In her absence, Shara Proctor won a silver medal that looked likely, at one stage, to be gold. Two bronze medals in the 4 x 400m relays were added on the final night, a welcome antidote to the row erupting among the men’s  4 x 100m squad after their failure to get the baton round once more.

It was Britain’s best World Championships for gold medals, and just shy of the overall tallies in 1987 and 1993.

More broadly, it was a championships welcomed by the local population. They were in rapture to the event, where previous hosts Moscow and Daegu reeked of indifference, and it made a welcome respite from the doping headlines.

It by no means papered over the cracks, however. As Coe succinctly described his new job, it is “a challenge”.

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