This week’s World Championships reminded me of Sean Connery tied to the table in Goldfinger. The film’s charismatic villain swaggering before a hopeless Bond, detailing his plans for world domination before he finally manages to dispose of the pesky secret agent. Goldfinger takes his time, chats cordially to Bond and then leaves our sweetheart to be eaten up by the laser beam.
But then, with the end in sight, there’s a stumble.
And just as Goldfinger was thwarted by Bond with just seconds remaining, so Usain Bolt steps up to deliver on the biggest stage, as we always knew he would. He snatched victory from underneath Justin Gatlin’s running spikes.
Gatlin seems to have embraced his role as villain just as readily as Bolt has hero, with his agent claiming after the 100m final that ‘only Gatlin beat Gatlin’.
But that disregards the greatest sprinter ever, the six-time Olympic Gold Medal winner, and the hero of our sport: Usain Bolt. Gatlin was beaten by the sustained supremacy of Bolt over the last seven years. As Michael Johnson has since said, Justin Gatlin needs to show signs of contrition before he can be considered as anything other than a villain, a foil for the heroes of the sport to thrash it out against.
Meanwhile, Andy Murray has been reassigned the role of Daniel Craig’s Bond; a gritty and more reluctant hero. He’s forced into the position of tennis’s ‘saviour’ as he faces Nick Kyrgios in the first round of the US Open.
Just as Hollywood constructs these diametric oppositions between good and evil, so it is not just a coincidence that many of sports biggest rivalries are characterised in such black and white terms.
Goldfinger wasn’t saving the world, but he was the focal point of the film. Kyrgios and Gatlin are never going to struggle to draw a crowd, they are the ones you don’t want to miss. As long as the good guy wins, it’s ok to have a couple of baddies isn’t it?