By Mitch Phillips
LONDON, Aug 5 (Reuters) – Usain Bolt achieved his aim of becoming a sporting legend on Sunday as he scorched to the second-fastest 100 meters ever, a superb 9.63 seconds, to become the first man to win back-to-back Olympic sprint titles on the track.
The Jamaican’s 9.58-second run to take the 2009 world title is the only quicker time and Sunday’s brilliant display silenced the doubters who predicted his hamstring problems would open the door for his rivals in one of the most eagerly-anticipated races in history.
World champion Yohan Blake made it a Jamaican 1-2 when he won silver in 9.75 seconds and 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin of the United States grabbed bronze in 9.79 as the first seven men all broke 10 seconds.
Asafa Powell pulled up with a groin injury near the end to ruin a potential Jamaican sweep.
Blake’s time equaled his personal best and Gatlin beat his. Tyson Gay finished fourth in a season’s best 9.80 seconds with fellow American Ryan Bailey fifth in an equal PB of 9.88.
But the night was all about Bolt, who had said repeatedly that he needed back-to-back titles to cement his place among the sport’s “legends”.
He now stands alongside Carl Lewis as the only men with two 100 meters golds, though the American’s second in 1988 came only after race winner Ben Johnson of Canada was disqualified for doping.
“After the semi-finals I was really confident because my legs felt great, my execution was great so I was really confident in myself,” Bolt told reporters.
“I never remembered I was running against the clock until it was 30 meters to go, then ‘world record’ popped into my head.
“I looked across at the clock but it was too late to do anything about it then. It was the second fastest time in the world, so I am happy.”
Having been disqualified for a false start in last year’s world championships final Bolt was never going to risk a flying getaway but he was into his running quickly and up with his key rivals within a few meters.
“I was slightly nervous before I came out but after the cheer that I got when they were introducing me, all those jitters went away. I was like this is it, this is game time,” Bolt said.
“Remember I told you my coach said, ‘Stop worrying about your start, the best of your race is at the end, that’s where you rule’. So I stopped worrying about the start and I executed, so it worked.”
Blake, who beat him in the Jamaican trials, Gatlin, back in the mix after serving a doping ban, and Powell were all going well but they needed clear air to have any chance of an upset.
His face scrunched in concentration, Bolt overhauled them soon after halfway and the Jamaican, the rest of the field and 80,000 roaring fans knew it was over.
He crossed the line with his eyes on the clock, his face revealing a look more of relief than joy, before he pointed to the sky and carried on at almost full pace round the bend to soak up the adulation of the delirious crowd.
Bolt will now bid to complete an unprecedented double-double by retaining his 200 meters title and will also seek a sixth Olympic sprint gold in the 4×100 meters relay.
Running with him then will be Blake, whose rivalry with his team mate, friend and training partner could keep athletics fans drooling for years.
“Usain knows what it takes, he is a world beater and he is the fastest man in the world,” said Blake. “But I got a medal in my first Olympic Games and a lot of that is down to Usain and our coach.”
Gatlin, who served a four-year ban for his second doping offense, was delighted to be involved.
“A lot of people on Twitter and Facebook think that I’m the bad guy but I’m not and I had to prove that tonight,” he said.
“…to be part of this race for me is just incredible. I just wanted to be on that podium.”
Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce also retained her women’s 100 meters title to give her country a flying start in their sprint showdown with the United States.