Usain Bolt was made to look human by a combination of a Russian rainstorm and a fired-up Justin Gatlin on Sunday, but the Jamaican superstar was still good enough to regain his world 100m title in a surging 9.77 seconds.
With former world and Olympic champion and twice-banned doper Gatlin leading at halfway, Bolt was forced to race a rival, rather than the clock, although his time was still the second-fastest of the year behind the 9.75 seconds set by Tyson Gay, absent from Moscow after testing positive for doping.
The victory made amends for the one blot on the Jamaican’s extraordinary copybook, his disqualification from the 2011 final after a false start, and underlined his priceless value to his sport in the wake of a surge of doping cases.
“It was not revenge for Daegu , I just came here to win this title,” said Bolt, who finished ahead of Gatlin (9.85) and compatriot Nesta Carter (9.95). “My legs were sore after the semis and the world record wasn’t on, so I came out just to win.”
However, it seems that even the presence of Bolt and local heroine Yelena Isinbayeva was not enough to persuade Muscovites to give up their Sunday evening as his performance, devoured by millions around the world on TV, was witnessed by maybe about 30,000 fans in the 81,000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium, reduced to 50,000 for the world championships.
The swathes of empty seats will come as something of an embarrassment to the organizers, already fighting a rearguard action in the wake of a series of damaging high-profile doping cases.
Those who stayed away missed the host nation’s first gold of the championships, for 20-year-old 20km walker Aleksandr Ivanov, the third successive win for Russia in the event.
There were also impressive victories for Americans Ashton Eaton in the decathlon and Brittney Reese in the long jump, while Ethiopia’s remarkable Tirunesh Dibaba claimed yet another 10,000m title and hot favorite Croatian Sandra Perkovic won the discus, but the night was always about the 100m final and that means it was all about Bolt.
He had gone through the rounds comfortably enough, though he looked a little pensive and when a hot, humid day gave way to a thunderstorm minutes before the race, there was the merest hint that things might not go so smoothly.
Gatlin, who handed the Jamaican a rare 100m defeat early in the year when he was short of full fitness, started well and was leading at halfway, but Bolt reeled him in at 60m and drove through the line.
Carter held off two more Jamaicans — Kemar Bailey-Cole and Nickel Ashmeade — for bronze.
While Bolt is undoubtedly the biggest name in the sport, he is the first to cede the title of the world’s greatest athlete to Eaton and the American is unquestionably worthy of the tag after he winning the world title in style to complete a spectacular hat-trick, having won Olympic gold and broken the world record last year.
Eaton, still only 25, led from the first event on Saturday morning and poured on the pressure on Sunday as a 5.20m pole vault and a gutsy last-throw 64.83m javelin gave him a virtually unassailable lead.
He made no mistake in the 1,500m finale to triumph with 8,809 points. Germany’s Michael Schrader took silver with 8,670, while Canadian Damian Warner of Canada got bronze with 8,512 — both personal-best tallies.
Reese sneaked into the long jump final as the 12th and last qualifier, but stamped her authority all over the event with a 7.01m leap in the second round.
Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, who was due to go in the 100m yesterday, took silver.
Mo Farah might have trademarked the last-lap burst in the last three seasons, but Dibaba has been doing it for years and nobody could live with her as she secured a hat-trick of world 10,000m titles to go with two 5,000m world titles and three Olympic golds.
Kenya’s Gladys Cherono tried to go with her, but had to settle for silver as Ethiopian Belaynesh Oljira pipped Kenya’s Emily Chebet on the line for bronze.
In early action, English Gardner of the US set the pace in the first round of the women’s 100m, running through the line in 10.94 seconds.
A host of other Americans and Jamaicans were also in with a shot at the title in yesterday’s final, when it was not beyond the realms of possibility that all eight lanes could be filled by athletes from the two sprinting superpowers.
Russia’s double world and Olympic pole vault champion Isinbayeva, who says she will retire after the worlds, made a low-key appearance to qualify for today’s final — which is likely to be a noisy and emotional occasion.