Usain Bolt lived up to his billing as the star man of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games by winning the 100m title on Sunday night to complete the first part of his bid for an unprecedented triple-triple.
After his customary slow start, the Jamaican sped past the rest of the field – including arch-rival Justin Gatlin – and finished in 9.81 seconds, successfully defending the title he won at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games. He now becomes the first person to win three consecutive Olympic 100m titles.
The USA’s Gatlin took silver in 9.89, with Canada’s Andre de Grasse claiming bronze in 9.91.
Bolt’s bid for triple glory in Rio also includes defending the 200m and 4x100m he won four and eight years ago.
“Somebody said I can become immortal,” he said afterwards. “Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal. It’s a good start. There will always be doubters. But I’m in better shape than last season.
The 29-year-old praised the crowd in the Olympic Stadium after the race. “It’s unbelievable, the energy they gave me, it’s just great,” he said. “It felt like I was in a football stadium. Thanks for your support, keep on supporting me, I have two more races to go, so watch out!”
Bolt had cruised through the morning heats and then ran the fastest time in the semi-finals (9.86), despite easing off, looking to his side and grinning broadly as he approached the finish line.
Image courtesy of Reuters
Bolt’s build-up to Rio had been far from ideal: he pulled out of the Jamaican trials with a hamstring injury and, after proving his fitness at the London Anniversary Games, he had been keeping a low profile in Brazil.
Bolt’s triumph was preceded by a spectacular 400m final in which South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk broke the world record with a blistering run of 43.03 seconds. It superceded the 17-year-old mark of 43.18 set by USA sprint legend Michael Johnson.
“I believed I could get the world record. I’ve dreamed of this medal since forever. I am blessed,” Van Niekerk said after the race.
Pre-race favourite Lashawn Merritt, the American who had run the fastest time of the year up to Sunday night, was left trailing in third place on 43.85. Grenada’s Kirani James, the London 2012 Olympic champion took silver in 43.76.