LONDON (AP) — Pulling away from the pack with every long stride, Usain Bolt crossed the finish line and wagged his right index finger.
Yes, he’s still No. 1 in the 100-meter dash. Maybe not better than ever, but Bolt is definitely back.
Only sixth-fastest of the eight runners to the halfway mark Sunday night, Bolt erased that deficit and overwhelmed a star-studded field to win in 9.63 seconds, an Olympic record that let him join Carl Lewis as the only men with consecutive gold medals in the marquee track and field event at the Summer Games.
“Means a lot, because a lot of people were doubting me. A lot of people were saying I wasn’t going to win, I didn’t look good. There was a lot of talk,” Bolt said. “It’s an even greater feeling to come out here and defend my title and show the world I’m still No. 1, I’m still the best.”
Ever the showman, the Jamaican kept right on running for a victory lap that included high-fives for front-row fans, a pause to crouch down and kiss the track and even a somersault. Thousands in the crowd chanted the champion’s name: “Usain! Usain! Usain!”
“I’ve said it over the years, that when it comes to the championships, this is what I do,” Bolt said. “It’s all about business for me.”
Bolt’s training partner and Jamaican teammate, world champion Yohan Blake, won the silver in 9.75, and 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin of the USA took the bronze in 9.79.
“It just feels good to be back,” said Gatlin, who served a four-year ban after testing positive for excessive testosterone.
“To be honest, I went out there to challenge a mountain. I went out there to challenge the odds. Not just myself and everything I’ve been through, but the legacy of Usain Bolt,” Gatlin said. “I had to go out there and be fearless.”
Everyone in the final broke 10 seconds except former world-record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica, who pulled up with a groin injury.
At Beijing four years ago, the 6-foot-5 Bolt electrified track and field, winning gold medals in world-record times in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay — something no man had ever done at an Olympics. His 100 mark of 9.69 set there, the one that came despite some slowing down for celebratory chest-slapping, only lasted until the next year’s world championships, when he lowered the record to 9.58.
But The World’s Fastest Man had been something less than Boltesque since then, in part due to a string of minor injuries to his back and legs. In 2010, he lost to Tyson Gay, the American who’s a past world champion and cried inconsolably after ending up fourth Sunday in a time (9.80) that would have been good enough to win every Olympic 100 gold medal other than the past two.
A false start knocked Bolt out of the 100 at last year’s world championships, creating an opening for Blake. Then came recent, much-discussed losses to Blake in the 100 and 200 at the Jamaican Olympic trials.
“The trials woke me up. Yohan gave me a wakeup call,” Bolt said. “He knocked on my door and said, ‘Usain, wake up! This is an Olympic year.’”
Never one to put too much emphasis on his fitness, always quick with a quip about his work ethic, Bolt admitted in 2008 that his success was fueled by chicken nuggets from a fast-food restaurant in the Olympic village. This time around, he noted that he noshed Sunday on a sandwich wrap from that same chain.
“It was chicken with vegetables, so it was healthy,” Bolt said with perfect deadpan delivery. “Don’t judge me.”
Bolt, a fast runner who likes to drive fast, too, was involved in a wee-hours car crash in Kingston in June — not the only auto accident he’s been in. His publicist played down the seriousness of the latest episode, but the hand-wringing in Jamaica intensified after the poor performances at the trials a few weeks later.
Bolt never let any of that affect him in London.
“I had to show the world I’m the greatest,” he said.
After easing up down the stretch and basically jogging through the finish while winning his semifinal heat earlier Sunday, he mugged for the cameras and said, “I’m back, baby. All day, every day.”
Then he went out about two hours later and proved it, running the second-fastest 100 in history.
He came to these Olympics with the stated intention of becoming a “living legend.”
If he hasn’t accomplished that already, he’s sure close. Bolt begins defending his title in the 200, which he considers his best event, in Tuesday’s heats. He’s also part of Jamaica’s 4x100 relay team, of course, and wouldn’t rule out taking part in the 4x400 this time, as well.
Some saw no reason to wait to see what Bolt does the rest of the way at these Olympics.
“There’s no doubt he’s the greatest sprinter of all time now,” said seventh-place finisher Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago, who was 0.35 seconds back on Sunday.
Thompson was the silver medalist in Beijing, despite trailing Bolt by a hard-to-believe 0.20.
That dominant race by Bolt, the one that announced his arrival on the global stage, was remarkable for the way he was able to win by such a large margin even as he slowed while preening over the last 20 meters.
Sunday’s sequel required him to push all the way, due in part to his typically lumbering burst from the blocks. Before crouching down at the start, Bolt went through all of his usual prerace antics, playing to the crowd by pantomiming scratching a record like a DJ, then smiling his infectious smile. He put a finger to his lips, as though shushing his critics.
Right before the starting gun, a bottle was tossed from the stands and it landed on the track behind Blake’s lane. But neither Bolt nor Blake noticed.
“When they say, ‘On your marks,’ that’s when the focus starts,” Bolt said.
He took a while, as usual, to get up to top speed, but once he found his extra gear, no one else stood a chance, even though the men surrounding Bolt were an accomplished bunch. Once he found himself even with the leaders with about 50 meters left, Bolt did what he does best.
Cheeks puffing, arms pumping right along with each of those lengthy strides — Bolt is taller and leaner than the typical 100 champs of the past — he reeled in everyone else, even leaning at the finish for good measure.
“I stopped worrying about the start,” Bolt said. “The end is what’s important.”
Then came the sort of scene Bolt, who turns 26 this month, made so commonplace in Beijing: a look-at-me! series of photo ops, including some dance moves fit for a nightclub and what he calls his “To the World” pose, when he leans back and points to the sky.
The guy sure knows how to enjoy the moment.
He hugged Blake, the guy Bolt nicknamed “The Beast” because of his intensity in practices.
Later, Blake tweeted: “Big up (at)UsainBolt! You deserved that one. Big up Jamaica!”
How big a deal was this?
LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and other members of the United States men’s basketball team were among the spectators who filled 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium, arriving right as the 100 semifinals were getting started.
James even pulled out a phone to record video of Bolt in action.
“The whole world is going to watch this tonight,” James said, noting that Bolt was his pick to win. “This is the biggest event of them all, right here.”
There were other events on Sunday’s schedule, and Sanya Richards-Ross won the only USA gold at the track so far. She erased the bad memory of her bronze-medal finish in Beijing by accelerating down the stretch to win the 400 meters in 49.55 seconds.
Other winners were Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya in the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase, Krisztian Pars of Hungary in the men’s hammer throw, Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan in the women’s triple jump, and Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia in the women’s marathon. Oscar Pistorius, the amputee “Blade Runner” from South Africa, finished last in his 400-meter semifinal but will get another chance in next week’s 4x400-meter relay.
Bolt’s victory in the 100 four years ago began a stretch of dominance by Jamaica, an island nation of 3 million people — about 1 percent as many as the United States — that now owns seven of the last eight Olympic men’s and women’s sprinting golds, including relays.
About 1½ hours before Bolt’s latest victory, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce stepped to the top of the medal stand in the stadium and received the gold she earned in the women’s 100 on Saturday night. Like Bolt, she’s a repeat champion.
Bolt gets the distinction as the only man to cross the finish line first in back-to-back dash finals. Lewis’ victory in Seoul in 1988, following his first 100 title at Los Angeles in 1984, was awarded only after apparent champion Ben Johnson of Canada was stripped for failing a drug test. Johnson hailed from the same Trelawny parish in Jamaica that is home to Bolt.
They already were set to party in that Caribbean country to mark 50 years since it became independent from Britain.
On Aug. 5, 1962, the Union Jack was lowered for the final time at Kingston’s National Stadium. Talk about perfect bookends: On Monday — which is Aug. 6, 2012, the 50th anniversary of the island’s independence — the Jamaican flag will be raised in London’s Olympic Stadium for Bolt’s medal ceremony.
“It’s an honor. I said after the trials I wanted to give Jamaica a great birthday present,” Bolt said, “and this is a good start.”
Who knows what else he has in store?