(Athletics Worlds) Azerbaijani running for Turkey upsets van Niekerk

Sports | 11 Aug 2017 11:32 am

If track and field’s wildest fantasy — "The Next Usain Bolt” — really is out there somewhere, he most certainly was not in the vicinity of the world championships on Thursday.

Eight men lined up for the final of the 200 meters, trying to become the first sprinter other than the Jamaican great to win the world title at that distance since 2007.

Among them was Isaac Makwala, the Botswana runner who became a celebrity of sorts with his soap opera-like story of being barred from the track meet with an alleged case of stomach flu, only to be readmitted for his shot at glory.

There was Wayde van Niekerk, the South African who has a 400-meter title under his belt from earlier in the week and certainly possesses the running credentials to be touted as the next great sprint champion.

And then, there was the winner: Ramil Guliyev, (pictured, leaning in to the tape) a 27-year-old who competes for Turkey but hails originally from Azerbaijan.

Guliyev, who finished last when Bolt won the 200 at last year’s Olympics, crossed the line in 20.09 seconds. It was the fourth-slowest time to win this race in the history of the championships. But Turkey’s second gold medal of the week had its perks. Moments after the win, Guliyev was on the phone with his country’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Hours later, he was still wearing the Turkish flag around his shoulders — and making no apologies.

"I was competing against some of the best athletes in the world, so it didn’t bother me that the attention was on them,” Guliyev said. "Maybe at the next competition, everyone will look at me instead.”

Give him his due. Guliyev made up two steps on Van Niekerk over the last 20 meters to squeak out a .02-second victory.

Van Niekerk, who holds the world record at 400 meters, was trying to become the first person since Michael Johnson in 1995 to complete the 200-400 double at the worlds. How difficult that quest really is became evident the night before when Van Niekerk, coming down from the high of his 400 win, struggled in the 200 semifinals and barely squeezed into the final.

Though many are looking to him to occupy the mantle Bolt is leaving — and Van Niekerk says he’ll try Bolt’s specialty, the 100-200 double, in the future — the runner himself got a crash course in how hard it will be to take it.

"They made me realize it’s not going to be a walk in the park,” he said after capturing silver in a photo finish over Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago.-AP

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