The crazy thing about the Olympic 100 metres is that for a race which lasts just under 10 seconds, the celebrations go on forever. When you're Usain Bolt, now the first man in history to win three straight gold medals, what's the rush?
So, nearly two hours after running 9.81 seconds, Bolt was still exiting his way through the Olympic Stadium, both relishing and revelling in every moment, as well he might. It was his seventh Olympic gold medal and all, with plenty to suggest he’ll leave Rio with two more - completing the hat-trick of Olympic sprint trebles he’d so boldly set out to do.
The latest display of the Bolt supremacy was actually the slowest time of his three Olympic successes: after a typically rocky start, Bolt gunned down Justin Gatlin in the last 30m, the veteran American once again fading just when it seemed he'd done the shooting.
Indeed Bolt’s performance wasn’t actually the most impressive of the night, Wayde van Niekerk producing a world record of 43.03 seconds to win the 400m, just 20 minutes earlier, breaking the long-standing mark of 43.18 belonging to Michael Johnson since 1999. Better still van Niekerk ran it out in lane eight.
Still there was no denying the headline act, and Bolt certainly lived up to that billing.
“I kept saying I wanted to set myself apart from everybody else, and this was the Olympics I had to do it,” he said. “It was great, and I’m proud of myself. It wasn’t the perfect execution, but I was so focused, ready to go, and it was brilliant. That’s what I was here to prove, that I want to be among the greatest.”
Gatlin clocked 9.89 in second, neatly completing his set of Olympic medals, having won bronze in London four years ago, and gold back in 2004, before serving a second ban for doping.
Claiming third was Canada’s Andre de Grasse, who trimmed .01 from his lifetime best to run 9.91, with Yohan Blake from Jamaican settling for fourth in 9.93.
Even if Bolt created some fleeting doubt with his poor start his finish was as majestic as ever, a simple thumbing of the heart marking the moment of victory, before a later more extended salute equally typical of the Jamaican.
“I already said that unlike season, which was pretty much a dogfight, that I was in much better, felt much better, this year,” added Bolt, “and knew I was going to do much better. It wasn’t the best start, but I knew all I had to do was keep my composure.”
It didn’t quite have the feel of the ‘race to save the sport’ that was given to last summer’s showdown at the World Championships in Beijing, where Bolt beat Gatlin by a mere .01, although there was a reminder of the so-called good versus evil when Gatlin was audibly booed when entering the stadium, a reminder of his two previous doping offences, his still easy welcome back in the sport.
“It was surprising,” admitted Bolt, “And I didn’t expect that. I’ve never heard or seen that happen before. I guess some people are more vocal than others, but I wasn’t focused on that. I was here to do my job.
“And no, I wasn’t worried about the start. After the semi-final my confidence went way up, because I executed that race so well. So even when I got the bad start I just told myself ‘don’t panic, take your time, work your way back’, and that’s what I did. But I’ve seen it on the replay, and it actually looks worse than it felt, in the race. But I knew that would happen, Gatlin would get a good start, he always does. So I just took my time, chipped away at the lead.”
What Bolt was less about was the strangely swift turnaround between the semi-final and final, a mere 85 minutes: having run 9.86 in his semi-final, pulling up, there was an actually an air of expectation he might challenge test his Olympic record of 9.63, set in London.
“Well it was very hard to run fast, because the turnaround time was really, really short. Ridiculous, as far as I’m concerned, because I felt so good in the semi-finals I was like ‘yo, I could run a really fast time in the final’, but by the time we got back out to the warm-up area, it was time to go back out again, so for me it was really stupid, I don’t know who decided that, but that’s why the race was slow. There’s no way you can run, then go back around, and run fast times again. So it was hard for us.
“But the key thing, as I’ve said, is that it’s all about winning. And that’s what I did. But I expected to run faster in the final, yeah.”
Next up then is the 200m, the penultimate race in his quest to win the double sprint triple (after Beijing in 2008, then London 2012): He has now won 41 of his 45 major 100m races since the start of 2008, and his 200m record in major finals now stands at 27-1.
Bolt also had some kind words to say about Gatlin (“he’s a great competitor, without a doubt. He shows, pushes you to run fast, and be the best at all times”) and there was a sense the American, now 34, has mellowed somewhat this season. The booing, however, did catch him a little off guard.
“Well you know, at the end of the day, you hear everything,” said Gatlin. “For me, you have to tune that kind of stuff out. When people come out here they get enthralled, they get excited, and there are a lot of Usain Bolt fans, a lot of Jamaican fans, but they don’t know me, they don’t know Justin, and I work very hard, and have the respect of my own competitors. We work very hard for what we do, and to be able to have the respect of the competitors, that I line up with, that’s all I care about. I leave all the other stuff out.
“And being the oldest guy in the field, and to be able to come out here, and get onto the victory podium, is a victory in itself. And I’m happy to be able to race against Usain. He rises to the occasion, when needs be, and it’s an honour to be a part of history.”
The story of the night in Rio, really.