One last time, Sir Mo Farah kicked for the line. One last time, he heard the roar of the crowd at the stadium where he played such a big part in making the 2012 Olympics such a magical event. One last time, he tried to leave his rivals in his wake.
But this has not been a World Championships that respected reputations or indulged dreams. This has been a championships that trod fairy-tale endings into the track. It did it to Usain Bolt a week ago and on Saturday night it did it to Farah as well.
Farah was third at the bell but the crowd still expected his electric kick. It still seemed impossible that after so many triumphs and so many glories that he would be beaten in his last race on the track in a major championships.
Britain’s Sir Mo Farah was forced to settle for a silver medal in the 5,000m on Saturday night
The British athlete was beaten into second by Ethiopia’s Muktar Edris at the London Stadium
Farah was trying to win his 11th global gold but was unable to catch Edris on the home straight
But as the last lap unfolded, something was different. His action was not quite as smooth. It looked as if maybe the exertions of the 10,000m when he won gold in a rough, tough race eight days earlier might be sapping his strength at last.
The crowd roared and roared and roared down the back straight but it was Muktar Edris and Yomif Kejelcha, the Ethiopian runners, who held the lead. There was one moment, when the trio hurtled round the final bend, when it seemed that Farah might yet conjure one last miracle finish.
But as he sprinted up the inside, Edris found another gear and accelerated away. It was an astonishing last lap, a breathtaking sight of athletics brilliance, and Farah kept going right to the very end.
Even when he knew the gold that he had so coveted as the perfect goodbye was gone, he forced himself into the silver medal position in his last strides as a track racer and then crashed to the track where he lay in tears until he was pulled to his feet by competitors.
These World Championships in London have not respected reputations or indulged dreams
Usain Bolt was denied a gold medal in the 100m by American sprinter Justin Gatlin last week
The stadium rose to him one last time as he jogged on a lap of honour and the big screen played a montage of some of his greatest moments as he prepares for a career in road racing and marathons. Edris paid his own kind of homage by doing the Mobot.
It is quite a record that Farah leaves behind him and it is worth remembering just how exalted his place is in athletics history. He is the second athlete in modern Olympics history, after Lasse Viren, to defend the 5,000m and 10,000m titles successfully.
He also completed the ‘distance double’ at the 2013 and 2015 World Championships and came desperately close to doing it here. He was the second man in history, after Kenenisa Bekele, to win long-distance doubles at successive Olympics and World Championships.
And he was the first in history to defend both distance titles in both major global competitions, the ‘quadruple-double’. Since he finished second in the 10,000m at the 2011 World Championships, he had an unbroken streak of ten global final wins until on Saturday night.
Farah was given a standing ovation by the London Stadium crowd following the 5,000m
He is the second athlete to successfully defend the 5,000m and 10,000m Olympic titles
Farah’s triumph in the 10,000m last Friday — the opening night of the competition — remains Britain’s only individual medal at London 2017. He will end his track career in the 5,000m at the Zurich Diamond League on August 24.
To some, the idea that Farah’s legacy should even be a subject of discussion is a source of outrage but others feel a sense of discomfort about the question marks that hang over his career and the fact that he has refused to provide any cogent answers to them.
The fact remains that his coach, Alberto Salazar, the man who masterminded his transformation from a promising runner to one of the greatest athletes of all time, remains the object of deep distrust and suspicion.
For almost two years, Salazar has been under investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency over allegations concerning his regime at Nike’s Oregon Project, the elite American distance-running group he oversees.
The controversy surrounding Salazar is such that he has not travelled to London for the World Championships so Farah is in the unusual position of being at his last major championships on the track without the guidance of the man who has become his mentor.
The British athlete’s coach Alberto Salazar remains the object of deep distrust and suspicion
Some see the idea that Farah’s legacy should be a subject of discussion as a source of outrage
The allegations against a man Farah has refused to abandon are many and varied and Farah has been caught in the crossfire. His own reputation was also tarnished when it emerged he had missed two random drugs tests in the run up to the London Olympics.
On one occasion, Farah’s excuse was that he did not answer the door to his testers because he could not hear his doorbell. That was met with ridicule but Farah and his advisors have shut down any further discussion about the incident.
In fact, Farah remained largely off limits to reporters before these championships and even his availability after he won the men’s 10,000m eight days ago turned into a farce when reporters who British Athletics worried might ask inconvenient questions were barred from a briefing with him.
The doubts surrounding Farah are not peculiar to him. Athletics has been so tainted by drugs controversies that no one knows quite what to believe any more. It has become difficult to anoint heroes with certainty. Cynicism and doubt have invaded the sport’s magic.
British cyclist Bradley Wiggins was enveloped by controversy after the Rio Olympics in 2016
400m champion Wayde van Niekerk has claimed he is not being shown enough respect
Those of us, for instance, who praised Sir Bradley Wiggins to the skies during the Rio Olympics, felt rather more circumspect after the controversies that enveloped him in the months after the Games.
This month has also seen the release of the brilliant documentary, Icarus, about Russia’s state-sponsored doping system, which has underlined how vulnerable athletics still is to cheats and how far behind the testers still are.
All of this has cast a shadow over these championships. British success, or otherwise, tends to dictate the public mood towards any meeting and even though the crowds have been good, there has been a sense of anti-climax after the rush of golds at the Olympics in Rio.
For the rest of the world, too, it was an event of strange sights and sounds. Wayde van Niekerk, the man the IAAF desperately wants to become the new Usain Bolt, broke down in tears in an interview because he felt he wasn’t being shown enough respect. Given that he had just finished second in the men’s 200m and has been shown enough respect to last a lifetime, it was not a particularly promising sign of his ability to shoulder the hopes of the athletics world as Bolt has done for a decade.
These World Championships will be remembered for drug-cheat Justin Gatlin beating Bolt
Botswana’s Isaac Makwala running a 200m race against himself will also be an enduring image
Partly because of that, these championships will not be remembered for Van Niekerk. They will be remembered for Justin Gatlin, a two-time drug cheat, beating Bolt in the men’s 100m final, the great Jamaican’s final individual race.
That result was loaded with apocalyptic symbolism and despite the best efforts of some to rehabilitate Gatlin immediately, it felt to many as though the last high-profile bastion of athletics’ credibility had been swept away. It seemed rather apt then that another enduring image of these championships should be of the Botswana sprinter, Isaac Makwala, running a 200m race against himself on Wednesday.
Makwala had been barred from running in the men’s 400m final against Van Niekerk on Tuesday night after a norovirus outbreak. Makwala insisted he was fit but the authorities would not yield. Van Niekerk duly won the race.
After an outcry against the decision, Makwala was then allowed to try to qualify for the semi-finals of the men’s 200m but because the heats had already taken place, he had to try to gain the qualifying time by running alone.
Makwala qualified for the semis and finished sixth in the final. Van Niekerk was beaten to silver by Ramil Guliyev, an Azerbaijani who was running for Turkey.