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BEIJING (Reuters) - Usain Bolt needed a bit of help from his American rivals to win a third gold medal but Mo Farah secured a unique "treble double" all on his own on a dramatic penultimate night of the world athletics championships on Sunday.
While Bolt's place in the sporting pantheon was assured long before he won his 11th world title in the 4x100 meters relay, Farah took his spot among the greatest distance runners of all time with his third straight 5,000 meters title.
The British Olympic champion's brilliant victory gave him the 5,000-10,000 double for an unprecedented third major global championships in a row.
"Tonight I had to dig deep, it hasn't been easy, it's never easy," the 32-year-old said. "It's just amazing, incredible, to achieve the treble double."
Ashton Eaton had earlier shown his American team mates how to win a title in style when he bettered his own world record in the decathlon, while the Jamaican women ran the second fastest 4x100m of all time to give their men something to aim at.
A little over 20 minutes later, however, it looked like American Justin Gatlin might just get one over his Beijing nemesis Bolt.
A botched final exchange between Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers, though, saw the United States disqualified and the Jamaican add another title to those he won in the individual sprints.
It was the fifth time the 29-year-old had swept all three sprint titles at a major global championships going back to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and all the sweeter for the fact that it came at the end of an injury-disrupted season.
"This is better because I proved everybody wrong," Bolt told reporters.
"Everybody had counted me out and said 'he's not going to make it, he's done'. I came out here and proved you can never count Usain Bolt out, I'm a champion."
There were gold medals for Eastern Europe too with Marina Arzamasova of Belarus winning the 800 meters, Pole Piotr Malachowski taking the discus, Russian Mariya Kuchina the high jump and Slovakia's Matej Tothin the 50 km walk.
Olympic champion Eaton did all those disciplines bar the walk as part of his decathlon and when it came down to the final event, the 1,500 meters, he needed to run four minutes 18.25 seconds to better the world record he set in 2012.
"In the 1,500, I was having doubts, I didn't know if I could do it," he said. "It's like two years since I did a decathlon like this, and it's different from when I did the record in Eugene. This was 12-hour days."
With Algerian Larbi Bouraada acting as his pacemaker, however, Eaton stopped the clock at 4:17.52 to take his tally to 9,045 and break his old mark by six points.
Farah was also fatigued after winning the 10,000m last weekend and he was perhaps grateful for a slow start to his race.
His rivals have tried a variety of tactics to beat Farah over the last seven major global distance races and on Saturday Caleb Ndiku went for a straight sprint over the final 800m.
"I had a plan to kill everybody there," the Kenyan said.
Killing Farah is not so easy, however, and he surged past the Ndiku on the final bend to claim a victory in 13 minutes 50.38 seconds that was marred only by the absence of his pregnant wife and three children.
"Sometimes, as a parent, you don’t want to be away so much," Farah said. "It hurts sometimes. I just want to go home and celebrate with them."
There were plenty of celebrations on the track after 100 meters champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce anchored the Jamaican women's relay team to victory over 400 meters champion Allyson Felix and the American team in 41.07 seconds.
While that race could not have been more straightforward, the men's race featured botched handovers by the Americans and British and ended up with China's sprinters on the podium for the first time.
Gatlin, who finished second behind Bolt in the 100 and 200m, suggested the noisy crowd urging on the Chinese might have contributed to Rodgers being out of the exchange box when he finally took the baton from Gay.
"Definitely disappointed," said the 33-year-old. "We practiced a lot but the only thing we weren't ready for was the volume of the stadium. We couldn't hear the cues and that cost us the DQ."
Bolt, however, thought that the pressure of being favorites after they beat the Jamaicans in May's World Relays in the Bahamas had taken its toll on the Americans.
"It's easy to chase people but it's harder when you're the one being chased," he said. "Clearly they can't handle being chased."
Additional reporting by Gene Cherry and Judy Hua; editing by Clare Fallon