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Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — Pure speed.

It emanated from those loping, waist-high strides 6-foot-5 Usain Bolt churned with his golden spikes — untied lace and all — to win the 100-meter Olympic gold medal and break his own world record Saturday night.

It was there for all to see, too, in the "Is that really possible?!" gap of several feet between the Jamaican and the rest of the field at the finish. And, of course, in those bright, yellow numbers on the red-and-black trackside clock blaring the official time: 9.69 seconds.

Pure joy.

It radiated from Bolt's wide eyes as he playfully nudged an opponent during the prerace stroll through the stadium hallways, and, moments later, when he clowned with one of the volunteers at the start line before handing her his black backpack.

It was there for all to see, too, in his "How good am I?!" mugging for the cameras with about 20 meters to go, already certain victory was steps away — outstretched arms with palms up, slap to his chest while taking the last of his oh-so-long 41 strides, leaning back to enjoy the moment instead of leaning forward in effort. And in the arms-swaying dance moves he showed off as reggae music flowed from the loudspeakers to help him celebrate.

"I was having fun," Bolt said. "That's just me — I like to have fun."

Oh, did he have a blast on this night, making obvious he is head-and-shoulders above the competition — and not merely because he really is head-and-shoulders above the competition, towering above foes in an event where no world record-holder over the last two decades has been this tall and where some didn't even reach 6 feet.

Those lanky legs allow Bolt to cover more ground, but his turnover for each stride also takes longer. He might just be turning the dash into a big man's event, though.

Bolt's sudden emergence truly began May 5 in Jamaica, when he ran 9.76 seconds, just shy of countryman Asafa Powell's then-record 9.74. This was someone to watch. Then, on May 31 in New York City, Bolt broke Powell's mark by finishing in 9.72.

Now that is gone, too, and Bolt's 0.20-second margin of victory matched the largest in an Olympic 100 final over the last 40 years.

"He's just a phenomenal athlete," said Trinidad and Tobago's Richard Thompson, the NCAA champion from LSU who won the silver by finishing in 9.89, "and I don't think anyone would have beaten him with a run like that today."

Certainly not. Bolt turned in as transcendent a show as Olympic track and field has seen in years, perhaps dating to Michael Johnson's world-record 19.32 seconds in the 200 meters at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

That mark could be next for Bolt, who considers the 200 his specialty. The heats for that event begin Monday, and the final is Wednesday, a day before his 22nd birthday.

"It definitely brings track back," said Walter Dix of the United States, the bronze medalist in 9.91.

Back to the front pages. Back from being ignored, spurned even, after a series of drug cases that stripped medals and credibility.

It's all particularly remarkable when you consider that Bolt — from the same yam-farming Trelawny parish in his Caribbean nation that was home to Ben Johnson — only began competing in the dash 13 months ago.

"I told you all I was going to be No. 1," Bolt said, "and I did just that."

Even though his left shoelace was dangling, the knot undone. Even though he skidded out of the starting blocks with the seventh-slowest reaction time in the eight-man final. Even though as recently as this month, Bolt left some doubt as to whether he would even contest the 100 in Beijing, because he didn't want to disrupt his preparation for the 200.

The talk for weeks has been about how Bolt might hold up in the four-round format at the Olympics, and how he'd do squaring off against Powell and reigning world champion Tyson Gay of the United States.

That didn't pan out. Gay, who acknowledged he paid for being sidelined the past 1 1/2 months after injuring his left hamstring at the U.S. Olympic trials, didn't even make the final, finishing fifth in his semi. Powell, meanwhile, was fifth in the final for a second consecutive Olympics, adding to his reputation for flopping on the big stage.

"Usain was spectacular," Powell said. "He was definitely untouchable tonight. He could have gone a lot faster if he had run straight through the line."

How low might Bolt be able to push that time?

9.65?

9.59?

"Anything is possible. The human body is changing, so you never know," Bolt said. "I aim just to win, but when I saw the replay, I was amazed."

So was everyone else: the competition, if you can really use that term to describe the other runners; the 91,000 or so fans whose photo flashes filled the still night air; the millions watching on TV.

Years from now, people will look at the images from the finish of the men's 100 meters at the 2008 Olympics and ask: Was Usain Bolt given a head start?

Was it possible for one man to end up that far ahead of seven other men, seven other elite sprinters, the best the world has to offer?

It was, after all, the first Olympic 100 in which six men finished in under 10 seconds. One of them, sixth-place finisher Michael Frater of Jamaica, described Bolt's new record this way: "No one will get near it."

Well, perhaps no one other than Bolt.

There were other events on this clear night, other medals awarded. Nataliia Dobrynska of Ukraine won the heptathlon, with Hyleas Fountain earning a bronze for the first U.S. medal in that event since 1992. Valerie Vili won the women's shot put, giving New Zealand its first Olympic gold medal in track and field since 1976. The favorites advanced to Sunday's semifinals in the women's 100.

Ho-hum.

Nothing that could help restore some of track and field's luster the way a dazzling sprinter can.

His coach wanted Bolt to add the 400 to his repertoire instead of the 100, figuring height would help at the longer distance. But Bolt insisted on taking on the shorter event, in part, he admits, because it's, well, shorter. Less taxing. Less time spent running, sweating, working out.

Bolt enjoys cars — speed, clearly, is what drives the guy — and, like many twentysomethings, he likes to go out with pals and dance. He's been frank about realizing he needed to go to the gym more and party less to fulfill the potential that's been evident since he became the youngest-ever male world junior champion in the 200 at age 15.

In some ways, he still is a kid at heart. His Saturday morning began with some television-watching, followed by some chicken-nugget-eating. Then he turned the TV back on, before deciding to take a three-hour nap.

In the evening, a very special 9.69 seconds — read those numbers again, slowly — changed his life. After he kissed those shoes of his, and posed for photo after photo, Bolt finally walked barefoot off the rust-colored track that will always be meaningful to him and his sport. He was handed a telephone: Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding was on the line.

Later, after Bolt left the stadium's drug-testing area, he was mobbed by Olympics volunteers who wanted autographs on scraps of paper or their sky-blue shirts. They wanted photos of him.

And then along came a car and driver, and Bolt slid into the front seat.

The "World's Fastest Man" is enjoying the ride.