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Guliyev eclipses Makwala-Van Neikerk storyline to win men's 200m gold

Ramil Guliyev of Turkey crosses the line to win the mens 200 metres final while Isaac Makwala of Botswana finished 6th. (Photo: Getty Images)
by Haileegziabher Adhanom, AIPS Young Reporter, Ethiopia

LONDON, August 11, 2017The men’s 200m final on Thursday night brought another unexpected drama to the World Championships as Azeri-born Turkish sprinter Ramil Guliyev took gold. In doing so, much like Just Gatlin in the 100m final, he showed complete disregard for the pre-prepared script of the night – in this case the Makwala vs Van Niekerek showdown. Guliyev’s time 20.09 time was the fastest ahead of South Africa’s Van Niekerk who took silver and Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago, while crowed favorite Botswana’s Isaak Makwala managed only a sixth place finish.

Just a few days ago, not many people had heard of the name Isaac Makwala. Then, the 30-year old sprinter from Botswana became the talk of the Championship.

Makwala comes from a small town called Tutume from the eastern part of Botswana just 50km from the border with Zimbabwe. The three-time African champion is nearing the end of his career without having won gold at a World Championship or Olympic Games.

It was the world athletics’ governing body’s decision to prevent Makwala from competing in the 400m finals and initially in the 200m semifinal that made headlines around the world. Conspiracy theories ran wild, down to that the decision to ban the Botswanan was purposefully made to make things easier in the 400m for his much younger competitor, world record holder and eventual gold medalist, South African Wayde Van Niekerk. With Makwala eventually being allowed to run a sole heat for the 200m, and qualifying for semis and the final with ease, the 200m showdown was so eagerly anticipated.

Wayde Van Niekerk had already successfully defended his 400m gold from Beijing, and many were eagerly awaiting for the young South African to become the next face of the track sport with his superstar approach, following the departure of Jamaica’s multiple Olympic Champion Usain Bolt. Van Neikerk however, appeared to feel the pressure and the physical strain of having to run six races in three days, and only made the 200m final as a fastest loser.

Going into the now historical race, all of London Stadium was with Makwala, athletics’ very own Cinderella story of coming back from norovirus lockdown, a solo run in the rain, and running 200m twice in the space of three hours. The other fairytale could have been Van Neikerk’s as he attempted to become the double 200 and 400m champion and emulate his hero Michael Johnson from Gothenburg 1995. Neither scenario however was meant to be as it was unexpected sprinter Rami Guliyev, 27, from Turkey who snatched the race, and wrote his own version of story.

Local reports from Botswana indicate that, the government have a plan to honor Isaac Makwala, for the fight and bravery he showed to stay in the championship, and to award him the amount of money that the government pledges to give for every gold medal winner, despite him not even running the 400m final. After his sixth place finish Makwala said “I have been fully prepared for the 400m, which was my race. I did 200m casually and because I had to run three times in less than 24hours I feel tired.” Whereas the silver medalist from the race Van Niekerk admitted,” It was really a massive rollercoaster for me, this competition. I didn't just celebrate the medal I got tonight, it was more a celebration of the competition overall. Coming away with two medals -- both a good color, gold and silver. I think it's great for my career and another moment to be grateful for.”

Who is the new men’s world champion, Ramil Guliyev?

“This is not a shock but this does not feel real. This title means a lot. I have shown my best throughout this competition. I delivered my best race at the right time. I was competing against some of the best athletes in the world, so it didn't bother me that the attention was on them. Maybe at the next competition everyone will look at me instead." Those were the words of Ramil Guliyev after succeeding Usain Bolt as the men’s 200m world champion.

Born and raised in Azerbaijan, Guliyev, 27, originally competed for the Caspain nation until he become a Turkish citizen in 2011. His victory may be a surpise for the world, but for a small group of Turkish journalists, who were waiting for the new world champion in the mixed zone, it was 100% expected one. Some even superstitiously wore golden shoes and bags of the same color willing their adopted compatriot to win the gold medal.

According to Guliyev’s coach Oleg Mukhin, who has trained with the new world 200m champion since a very young age, he destined to achieve what he did due to his hard work throughout the years. Guliyev’s previous acheivements included a silver from the European Championships in Amsterdam in 2016. The sprinter has previously maintain that Mukhin, a family relative is like a father figure, who has helped ease the transition to Turkey.

The man who stole the headlines after his unexpected 200m world championship victory grew up practicing gymnastics and swimming rather than track, but after multiple victories in youth sprint competitions, he changed his focus and his mentality to become a sprinter. It seems to have been the right decision.

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