Ramil Guliyev earned the latest surprise victory of a World Championships that have produced more than their fair share of unheralded winners as he took the men’s 200m title in 20.09 to deny Wayde Van Niekerk’s ambition of completing a 200/400 double in London.
The 27-year-old Turkish runner – who transferred allegiance in 2011 from his native Azerbaijan – held his form as South Africa’s poster boy challenged him on the run-in to the line, finishing 0.02 ahead to become his adopted country’s first world gold medallist.
Van Niekerk, who only reached this final as the second and last non-automatic qualifier a day after retaining his 400m title, gave everything over the closing stages but was narrowly unable to match the double feat achieved by Michael Johnson of the United States at the Gothenburg World Championships of 1995.
Silver was his by a margin of just one thousandth of a second as he clocked 20.106 to the 20.107 achieved by 23-year-old Jereem Richards of Trinidad and Tobago.
Isaac Makwala of Botswana, who ran twice yesterday after starting with a solo time-trial in the pouring rain, did not have enough left at the last, finishing sixth in 20.44.
Britain’s 23-year-old Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake ensured the noise levels in the stadium remained at a high level as he challenged for a medal all the way down the straight before finishing fourth in 20.24, 0.02 ahead of the man who won the US Trials, Ameer Webb.
Japan’s 18-year-old Abdul Hakim Sani-Brown, the youngest man ever to qualify for the world 200m final, finished seventh in 20.63 ahead of Isiah Young of the United States, who clocked 20.64.
It was the first global men’s 100 or 200m final since 2003 not to feature a US or Jamaican medallist.
Numerous observers in the sport, including Trinidad and Tobago’s 1997 world 200m champion Ato Boldon, had said this would be an “open” final – but while Guliyev, who won at the European Athletics Team Championships in Lille in June, was recognised as a medal threat he was not widely seen as the favourite for gold.
“This is not a shock, but it does not feel real,” Guliyev responded in the immediate aftermath of his victory. “I am so proud – this title means a lot.”
Makwala, meanwhile, was contemplating a confused championships which had seen him unable to contend for a 400m medal because of sickness before returning yesterday for a solo time trial that he completed in 20.20 in driving rain before qualifying from his semi in 20.14.
“I’ve had one of the craziest championship journeys ever,” said the 30-year-old who leads this year’s world lists with 19.77. “The last 50 metres I was feeling tired. The lactic came. The 4x400m is next.”
Richards, meanwhile, complained that his race had been undermined when he slipped coming out of his blocks. “I tried my best not to let it affect me too much,” he said. “At the turn I wasn’t in contention really, so to get a medal from there is a great achievement.”