Christophe Lemaitre provided us with a moment of true sporting drama last night.
When there is a sportsperson who is vastly superior to the rest of their field, and only injury, bad luck or divine intervention will cause them to be defeated-a sportsperson like Usain Bolt, for example-their competitors suddenly find themselves with a new appreciation of the value of medals silver and bronze. And, while the athlete at the top pursues record times or medal hauls-how we sustained our excitement during the Michael Phelps era in swimming-the best race to watch is often that for second or third place.
And so it proved in the final of the men's 200 metres last night.
Christophe Lemaitre put two years of injury and bad form behind him to come through like an absolute steam train and take third place behind Bolt and Andre De Grasse, pipping Britain's Adam Gemili in a photo finish. It has been six years since Lemaitre burst onto the scene as a fresh-faced starlet, becoming the first white man to break 10 seconds in the 100 metres (and, in the process, relieving Ireland's Paul Hession of his 'Fastest White Man In The World' title) and taking gold in the European Championships.
Despite his success, Lemaitre had been largely consigned to the 'unfulfilled talent' category of athlete, until his name came up on the big screen in Rio in third. And his reaction (as well as that of the French commentator) says it all.
— Vincent Moncenis (@vmoncenis) August 19, 2016
You can't help but feel pleased for the Frenchman, coming through against all the odds to win his first major medal since taking two silvers and a bronze in the 100 metres, 200 metres and 4x100 metres relay in the Zurich European Championships two years ago. His run was much like that of Ireland's Thomas Barr in the 400 metres hurdles final earlier in the day-coming from nowhere, not giving up until his head was over the line. And it paid off:
It's as well Lemaitre-whose surname, incidentally, literally means 'The Master'-seized his opportunity in the individual races; France, often a decent outside bet in relays (both in the pool and on the track) failed to qualify for tonight's 4x100 metres relay final.