BEIJING — The Los Angeles Times billed it as the “clash of the dash.”
When it was over, however, Usain “Lightning” Bolt had forcefully brushed aside the notion of a clash.
Bolt turned Saturday night’s 100-meter final into his own personal showcase, his date with destiny.
Bolt grabbed the gold medal with a world record-setting performance, a 9.69-second effort that also set a global standard for the most jaws dropping at one time. He broke his own record of 9.72, which was set on June 1 in New York.
The Jamaican eased up on his blistering pace in the final 20 meters and waved to the crowd, appearing part showman and part sprinter at the same glorious time. Some people suggested he could’ve run a 9.55.
“I wasn’t even aware about the world record,” Bolt said. “I didn’t even know I got the world record until after I finished my victory lap actually. So one aim was just to come here and be an Olympic champion and I did that, so I was happy with myself.”
Bolt, a former world junior champion in the 200, is now the overwhelming favorite to win that event here; competition gets under way on Monday. He made his 100 debut this year and has been nothing short of impressive in his rise to stardom.
“He’s on fire,” said Tyson Gay, the American sprinter who bowed out after the semifinals. “He just has that rhythm. He’s in the zone. When you get that way, you kind of feel unstoppable.”
Trinidad and Tobago’s Richard Thompson took the silver in 9.89 and the 30-year-old Walter Dix of the United States, the oldest finalist, earned the bronze in 9.91. Churandy Martina of the Netherlands Antilles finished fourth in 9.93 and Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, one of the favorites entering the Olympics, rounded out the top five in 9.95.
“I improved my personal best three times,” a mirthful Martina said, “and there’s no better place to do that than right here.”
Powell, one of three Jamaicans in the final, hailed his compatriot for producing one of the most stunning athletic achievements of all time.
“He’s the best,” Powell said. “There’s no stopping him. He’s very explosive. He’s very young.
“I’m happy for Usain. He was definitely untouchable tonight. He’s spectacular. He’s definitely the greatest.”
Bolt’s powerful stride reached its apex near the race’s midway point. He separated from the pack by the 70-meter mark and cruised to victory, winning by three big steps.
Bolt, who turns 22 on Thursday, draped a Jamaican flag over his shoulders, punched his chest, danced on the track and was mobbed by fans in a flurry of activity over the next few minutes.
“The crowd came to see a performance,” said the 193-cm Bolt, who is taller and lankier than the prototypical sprinter.
After the race, Thompson and Dix were asked to describe what they saw from Lane 4, where Bolt zoomed by all competitors.
“I had a pretty good start and I felt that I was with Usain to about 50 meters and I just remember him pulling away after that. I could see him slowing down and I’m still pumping to the final line,” Thompson said.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete. I don’t think there’s any way anyone could’ve beaten him with a run like that.”
Dix described his mind-set when the race begins as “tunnel vision.”
“I really can’t say exactly how it felt until after I crossed the line and looked at the clock and he ran a world record,” Dix said.
Bolt received a congratulatory phone call from Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding after the race.
“He said that I had made the country proud and that they were looking forward to my coming home,” Bolt said.
Dr. Herb Elliott, a Jamaican and one of the IAAF medical commission members, said Bolt will become a better sprinter in the future.
After he had seen the replay of the race, this reporter asked Elliott about the start of the race, where Bolt appeared to have a less-than-sensational effort after the gun was fired.
“It was a fair start,” said Elliott, “but his coach (Glen Mills) and his staff have been working on it.”
Bolt agrees there’s room for improvement, too.
“I even could be 9.60” was the way he put it.
With that type of confidence and two world records in the span of two months, Bolt has made his foes concede the fact that finishing runnerup to him is a worthwhile goal.
“If I would have got second, I would have been happy,” Powell said.
Bolt preserved his energy for the evening. He said he didn’t wake up until 11 a.m. on Saturday, then watched TV and ate some nuggets, drawing laughter from the large throng of reporters.
“Then I went back to my room and slept again for like three hours,” he said.
And now the World’s Fastest Man can claim the title he always felt was his.
“I was always the fastest,” he said.
The evidence supports this claim. In 2004, Bolt, still a teenager, broke the 20-second barrier in the 200. In 2007, he shattered a 36-year-old Jamaican record in the 200 (19.75) at nationals and picked up a silver in the 200 at the IAAF World Championships.
“I came here to prove that I’m the best and I did that,” he said.
In the semifinals, Bolt won the first heat from Lane 7 in 9.85 seconds. Powell took the top spot in the second heat from the Lane 6 in 9.91 seconds.
The lasting memory of this blissful Beijing night, however, will be about the final.
“Usain Bolt is a great athlete to run a world record in the Olympic final,” Thompson said. “I tip my hat to him.”
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