The IAAF World Championships in London were a curious lot. The times were down, the drama was up and, while the world fawned over a pair of golden spikes running for the last time, a hedgehog stole the show.
Little went according to the script we had envisaged for London, and that may be no bad thing. We were left heartened, rather than with a heightened sense of expectation of the phenomenal parade of athletes on the international circuit.
At the end of a golden road for some of the brightest lights the sport has ever seen, the world of track and field chose to remind us that those stars, as untouchable as they seemed for periods of perfection, remain as mortal as the rest of the field.
The likes of Usain Bolt and Mo Farah have made it seem almost too easy, routine and obligatory, even, for them to mark these august occasions with a record or a dominant performance. Both left their ultimate stage looking distinctly human; Farah in tears, and Bolt brandishing an X-ray as proof that his last dash was snapped by the elements. Maybe they should have resisted temptation, and walked away in Rio gold. Leave them wanting more, and all that
Wayde van Niekerk, the heir apparent for the track and field crown, concealed a temperamental back for much of the 2017 season, but it didn’t stop him defending his one-lap title. It did, however, emphasise how difficult it will be to carry the torch of inspiration on his own.
The golden spikes of Bolt will not be easily filled by just one athlete. How could they be? He was a freak of nature, whose thumping chest entrance could only be matched for drama by his completely unexpected exit; forlorn on the track, watching the next generation streak away.
Of course, it is not how we will remember him, or Farah. They have inspired for a decade, and they leave the sport on a fascinating plateau. Maybe, just maybe, the next few years will not have a standout superstar in the Bolt mould; not one outrageous talent who rises above the rest.
Despite that reality, there is much to look forward to over the next few years. For one thing, these Championships reminded us that, in sport, nothing lasts forever. The Jamaican sprint dominance looks to be in its autumn, just as America rises once more.
Maybe, we will see the star dust sprinkled liberally around the sport, not just the track. Van Niekerk, in full cry, is destined to make more headlines, as he is yet to reach is peak. What a thought.
Caster Semenya, who medalled in the 1500m for ‘fun’, will continue to let her feet answer the mud-slinging that follows every title she adds to her collection. Akani Simbine has been in so many high-profile finals that a medal surely beckons one of these days.
Luvo Manyonga speaks of records, and such is the arc that he is currently on, only a fool would bet against him one day touching the stars that he seems to leap for at every major meeting he's in.
The optimism goes beyond the rainbow nation, of course. From the long-jump pit, to the high-jump bar, where you will find the freak that is Mutaz Essa Barshim, a man who can casually scissor jump well over 2m for kicks. The German rivalry in the men’s javelin, the US shot-put tussle
The compelling narratives are there, waiting to unravel themselves in due course.
Roll on Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games next year.
Roll on Doha, for the World Championships in 2019. Roll on Tokyo 2020, when all those narratives will reach their thrilling climax. The world may have lost Farah and its lightning Bolt, but their exit leaves the stage open for so many fresh faces of inspiration. The show will roll gloriously on. It always does.