Guliyev sprints into Turkish athletics history

Ramil Guliyev at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
European Athletics

When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, it is the time for hope and predictions and within athletes, it is probably a common theme that their ambition in the year ahead is to peak at the perfect time on the perfect stage of the biggest event of the season.

Welcome to the world of a man who did just that, Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev.

Just before 10pm in the London Stadium on Thursday night, a hush descended for the final of the 200m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017.

The tension was at its height, perhaps even more so than for the 100m final, as South Africa’s 400m champion Wayde Van Niekerk looked to complete a rarely-achieved double while Botswana’s Isaac Makwala aimed to end his well-publicised roller-coaster week with a medal.

But, from lane five, Guliyev produced the performance of his life to bring Turkey their first ever world championship gold.

He won in 20.09 from Van Niekerk and Trinidad’s Jerome Richards – both men were given the same time of 20.11 – with Makwala back in sixth.

With the victory came insight into the mind of the 27-year-old Guliyev, a year on from his 200m silver at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam.

"It is not a shock. I wanted to win and this year I thought it was possible and I made it. I believed in myself.

Ramil Guliyev at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
Ramil Guliyev at the IAAF World Championships London 2017

“I have shown my best throughout this competition. I am so happy to be world champion. This is the best moment of my career.”

He significantly added: “I delivered my best race at the right time.”

There you have it.

Whatever planning is needed, how much mental and physical preparation is put in, sometimes it does not all come together from that start of a year when everything is ticking down to one moment, 20-odd seconds in time.

However, Guliyev delivered how he wanted and when it mattered, coming through in the second half of the race to land the title.

“I concentrated on the 200m because I think you have to have been running in the region of 9.80-9.85 to get a medal in the 100m and I’m not doing that. However, if I relax, I think I can run about 19.70 t this moment for the 200m,” he added.

It’s worth noting that the European 200m record still belongs to the Italian legend Pietro Mennea at 19.72 from 1979, a world record at the time.

Ramil Guliyev at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
Ramil Guliyev at the IAAF World Championships London 2017

As Guliyev chatted, there was insight to what went through his mind, even if he had little time to think, in the frenetic latter stages of a race where his speed over the last 40 metres was so crucial.

“Running at your maximum, you only see straight, not left or right. My first thought when I crossed the line, am I first, second or third?

“But I have made it. I believe if you want something so much, you make it. It does not feel real. I am so proud. This title means a lot.”

Since finishing second in Amsterdam in 20.51 behind Spain’s Bruno Hortelano – who is back in training to defend his title next year but who missed this year after a serious hand injury in a car accident not long after the end of 2016 season – Guliyev has become the man the rest now have to catch.

There was proof of that in Vaasa in June when he won the 200m for his nation at the European Athletics Team Championships and now Berlin 2018 will be in his sights.

This time next year, as Berlin stages the 2018 European Athletics Championships as part of the first multisport European Championships along with joint-hosts Glasgow, the 200m should be quite a race.

Guliyev will want to build on this glory by chasing another gold and going one better than in Amsterdam while the returning Hortelano will be no doubt looking to make up for a lost 2017 by bidding for a successful defence.

Ramil Guliyev at the IAAF World Championships London 2017
Ramil Guliyev at the IAAF World Championships London 2017

Great Britain’s Adam Gemili, the 200m European champion, will have a point to prove after missing out in the team in London while his new team mate Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake will want to build on what he achieved with his own fine performance in London.

Mitchell-Blake, 23, finished fourth in 20.24 and promised to do even better next time.

He said: “I need to learn from it, build on it and come back stronger. All you can do is focus on yourself and all you can control is your individual performance.”

But it was Guliyev’s day, as he brought together all the potential he had first showed as a youngster where he won silver in the 200m at the 2009 European Athletics U20 Championships.

Now he will plot his path to Berlin, knowing he has mastered how to peak once and will want to show that lightening can strike at least twice.