LONDON — 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 about 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.
"I executed, and that's the key," Bolt said. "I stopped worrying about the start. The end is what's important."
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!"
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 U.S. earned the bronze in 9.79. 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 cried inconsolably after ending up fourth Sunday. 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.
Bolt never let any of that affect him in London.
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 in Tuesday's heats.
Some saw no reason to wait to see what Bolt does the rest of the way this week.
"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 race began a stretch of dominance by Jamaica, an island nation of 3 million people 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.
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