How Atlanta’s Christian Coleman beat Usain Bolt twice at World Championships

Tennessee track star Christian Coleman “could feel” Usain Bolt coming as the sprinters approached the finish line in London.

But Coleman didn't see Justin Gatlin until it was too late, and Gatlin took the gold in the 100 meter final at the IAAF World Athletics Championships on Saturday.

“It was all pretty crazy and pretty intense, but I knew it was going to be a great atmosphere like that with people screaming and yelling,” Coleman told SEC Country in a phone interview Sunday afternoon.

“Just with what was at stake, the World Championships, and Usain Bolt’s final race.”

Gatlin, another former Vols sprint champion, stole the show with a historic burst over the final 10 meters to run a 9.92-second time and edge silver medal winner Coleman (9.94) and third-place Bolt (9.95).

United States' silver medal winner Christian Coleman, of Atlanta,  poses with his national flag after the men's 100m final during the World Athletics Championships in London Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017.

Credit: Matthias Schrader

icon to expand image

Credit: Matthias Schrader

It was the first professional event for the 21-year-old Coleman, who devoted his youth to track and football while growing up in Atlanta en route to the University of Tennessee.

Even so, Coleman brought a fierce, competitive mindset to the global event.

“I didn’t have an ‘Oh my gosh I beat Usain Bolt’ moment in the semis,” Coleman said, asked about snapping Bolt’s 4-year-old, 45-race win streak in the 100 meters. “It was all technical thinking at that point. I knew I had to execute. It was all about getting to the final.

“Even though Bolt is someone I look up to and an icon, I feel like I deserve to be on this stage, too, and I was coming here to compete. Beating him just meant I had a good lane for the next race.”

Coleman’s supersonic start put him ahead of the pack off the start line in the final.

“I tried to hold my form, I could feel Bolt coming,” said Coleman, who ran in the lane beside the 3-time Olympic 100-meter gold medal winner. “I couldn’t see Gatlin because he was on the outside, and then I saw him in the corner of my eye at the end.

“I didn’t know who won — me, Gatlin or Bolt.”

Christian Coleman (from left), Usain Bolt and Jimmy Vicaut race toward the finish line of the men's 100m final during day two of the 16th IAAF World Athletics Championships London 2017 at The London Stadium on Aug.  5, 2017 in London.

Credit: Richard Heathcote

icon to expand image

Credit: Richard Heathcote

Finally, the scoreboard flashed the results, sending Gatlin into celebration and leaving Coleman with a steely gaze.

“As a competitor you want to win, and for a split second it was a little bit disappointing, knowing how close it was, wondering if you lean a little harder, execute better, and then look at film later and say if I had done this or that,” Coleman said, recalling the thoughts that went through his mind the instant he saw the results.

“But then you realize you made it this far, ran second to a great guy, a great competitor, and someone I call my friend. So after that second-place finish, I was happy for Justin, happy for the result, and happy to be a part of history.”

It was indeed a special event for the 35-year-old Gatlin to finally top Bolt on the world stage.

It was Gatlin’s first 100 meter World Championships gold medal since 2005 in Helsinki, and it’s bringing him the most attention he has had since winning an Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters in the Athens in 2004.

“Justin has been a great supporter for me,” Coleman said. “He’s a great competitor, and we get locked in to beat each other at events, but at the end of the day we’re teammates and great friends.”

Coleman, who ran the fastest 100 meter time in the world this year at the NCAA championships, will be teaming up with Gatlin on Friday in the 400 meter relay.

“I’ll just try to get a little rest and recover a bit,” said Coleman, the only man in the world to beat Bolt in the 100 meters twice in the same day. “There’s another race ahead.”