Age-defying Gatlin steals the crown

6 Aug 2017

There were two narratives that were supposed to come out of London 2017. One, Usain Bolt wins the 100m and has a celebratory send off. Two, some young upstart beats Bolt and the torch is passed to a new generation. What we got was a confusing scenario of a man older than Bolt with a sketchy history taking the gold.

At the last world champs in Beijing, it looked like Bolt could lose to Justin Gatlin. Bolt’s victory margin was 0.01, but the whole athletics world could breathe again. Steve Cram, commentating on the final for the BBC, summed it up talking about Bolt’s victory then:

“…he saved his title, he saved his reputation, he may have even saved his sport”

It was almost unthinkable that Gatlin, two years later, at the age of 35 would be a danger again. But age has never been a problem for Gatlin. Below we have charted the best five sprinters of all time and their peaks. In each chart 100 equals their PB, so you can see the progress/decline against it as they get older. They all (where they are old enough) see declines in their late 20s. Not Gatlin though. Gatlin has a straight line over four years, which represents his drug ban. After that ban, he comes back better and faster, achieving his PB at the age of 33. It’s an incredible story and an inconvenient truth for the sport.

Age and relative performance: top 5 100m athletes

100 = personal best

Please note: the ages have been calculated on athlete ages at the end of August each season (therefore, Bolt is showing as 31 even though his birthday is later this month).

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