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Usain Bolt said his quest for greatness remains unfulfilled even after he set an Olympic record to retain his 100-meter title.
Bolt, cheered on by a capacity crowd of 80,000 at London’s Olympic Stadium last night, clocked 9.63 seconds to beat the fastest field in games history. The 25-year-old Jamaican said he’ll only consider himself a track and field legend if he also retains his 200-meter title on Aug. 9.
“I’m never going to say that I’m the greatest until I’ve run my 200 meters,” Bolt told reporters, an hour after beating countryman Yohan Blake and Justin Gatlin of the U.S. “It was all about this, to defend my titles, because this is what’s going to make me a legend.”
The 6-foot-5 Bolt, who only took up the 100 meters as “speed work” to prepare for the 200 meters, is one of the most-recognized athletes in the world. His face has adorned magazine covers and billboards in London, while competitors at the games have mobbed him whenever he ventures out of his apartment at the athletes’ village.
Bolt came into the London games with questions about his form and fitness, and the memory of a false start in last year’s World Championships final that cost him a shot at retaining the title he won in a world-record 9.58 seconds in 2009.
Bolt also lost to Blake, his 22-year-old training partner, in the 100 and 200 meters at the Jamaican qualifying trials, and analysts including Maurice Greene, the 100-meter champion at the 2000 Sydney games, had picked Blake to usurp Bolt.
“There were a lot of people doubting me, lot of people saying I wasn’t going to win, that I didn’t look good,” Bolt said last night. “So for me it was an even greater feeling to come out here and defend my title and show the world that I’m still the number one and still the best.”
Bolt was as far back as sixth at the halfway stage of the eight-man race before surging through. He gritted his teeth and leaned toward the line, something he didn’t do in Beijing four years ago when he slowed down, turned to the crowd and thumped his chest. Bolt said he considered repeating his 2008 celebration before deciding to run through the line.
With the top three going under 9.80 and seven under 10 seconds, it was the fastest 100-meter race, according to the International Association of Athletics Federations, track and field’s governing body. Before last night, Bolt had been the only man to go under 9.80 in an Olympic final.
“We came out here to win,” said Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion who returned to the track following a drug ban. “We’re not going to sit back and say this is the Bolt show, we’re going to push him to the limit.”
Bolt’s iconic status has boosted income for his sponsor Puma SE. (PUM) The German sporting-goods maker said he created media value of more than $105 million after claiming double gold and improving his world records at the 2009 World Championships.
Bolt’s impact on track and field is as great as that of Michael Phelps’s on swimming, Gatlin said. The Jamaican has forced his rivals to reach for times many people thought were not possible, Gatlin added.
Blake tied his best time of 9.75 last night and Gatlin pushed Gay into fourth place by one hundredth of a second with a personal best time of 9.79. Gay, the second fastest 100-meter runner in history, remains without an Olympic medal.
“To be honest with you, watching Bolt, watching Blake, what they’ve done has given me inspiration to work harder and run faster,” said the 30-year-old Gatlin.
As he streaked into the lead, Bolt said he took a peek at the stadium clock to see if he could break his world record.
“By then it was too late to do anything about it,” he said.
While Jamaicans will celebrate the nation’s 50th anniversary of independence today, Bolt said he intends to prepare for the 200-meter heats starting Aug. 7.
To contact the reporters on this story: Tariq Panja at London’s Olympic Park at firstname.lastname@example.org; Thomas Penny at London’s Olympic Park at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at firstname.lastname@example.org