LONDON – Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world again. Now he wants to be a legend.
After all the talk about Bolt falling off his elite pace and being outclassed by fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake, Bolt outraced the 22-year-old for gold, winning in an Olympic-record 9.63 seconds to Blake's 9.75. The United States grabbed bronze with 9.79 from Justin Gatlin.
"There was a lot of people saying that I wasn't going to win. There was a lot of talk," Bolt said. "For me, it was an even greater feeling to come out and show the world I'm still the No. 1. I'm still the best."
Now he's focused on defending his Beijing gold medals in the 200 meters and 4x100 relay. If he does that, he'll be the first runner in Olympic history to ever defend all three. Which would be, in a word that Bolt likes, legendary.
[ Memorable Moments: Usain Bolt's wow moment in Beijing ]
"That’s my ultimate goal," Bolt said of being a legend. "That's it for me."
And he played the part Sunday. Running from Lane 7, Bolt was in the pack for the first 50 meters of the race until his long strides began boosting him forward. But unlike Beijing, he never opened up a wide margin in what was an extremely fast final. And with Blake and Gatlin in his pockets going into the finish, Bolt admitted he never thought about setting a world record or looked at the clock until the final 25 meters.
At that point, Bolt said, "It was too late to do anything about it."
Still, his 9.63 was remarkably fast – the second fastest ever behind his world record of 9.58 at the Berlin World Championships in 2009. With it, he now has the three fastest 100 meters in history next to his name. And he's only the second Olympic champion in the 100 meters to defend his title, joining the United State's Carl Lewis. Now he can admit it: Staying on top of the podium in 2012 was far more difficult than getting there for the first time in the 2008 Beijing Games.
"Without a doubt, hands down, [being at] the top is harder than anything else," Bolt said. "When you get to the top, you know it's good. You're working and enjoying it. Sometimes you lose sight of what's going on around you. Yeah, you know what it takes to get there, but sometimes you lose sight because everybody is praising you, everybody thinks you're great and you're doing well."
Ultimately, Bolt said it was Blake who rang the bell for him, beating him the 100 and 200 in Jamaican Olympic qualifying late in July. That, Bolt said, was his turning point to retaining his 100-meter title.
[ Photos: 100-meter winner Usain Bolt ]
"When Yohan Blake beat me twice, it woke me up," Bolt said. "It opened my eyes. Pretty much he came and knocked on my door and said, 'Usain, wake up. It's an Olympic year. I'm ready. Are you?' "
And Blake's role in pushing Bolt?
"I've trained really hard," Blake said. "That's why Usain nicknamed me 'The Beast.' "
And it might have been a good thing for both Bolt and Blake to have each other, as they faced a U.S. contingent that was clearly up for the gold medal challenge. The United States had a superb showing in the qualifying rounds with former 100-meter world record holder Tyson Gay, former Olympic gold medalist Gatlin and young star Ryan Bailey all putting up fast heats heading into the finals.
Despite coming off a four-year drug suspension, Gatlin appeared ready to crank up again for his big-stage reputation. And Gay looked like he was regaining his form despite hip surgery just over a year ago. The pair made Bolt and Blake dig every last step on Sunday, as Gatlin finished .16 off Bolt and .04 off Blake. Gay was one-hundredth of a second from tying Gatlin for bronze, a fact that drove him to tears as he left the track.
But Gatlin said he was "taking on a mountain," and that his bronze was a success in the face of returning from suspension against the two fastest runners in the world.
"It's been a lot of ups and downs," Gatlin said. "I've been at the top of the podium before. To come back and work this hard – to be honest with you, watching Bolt, watching Blake, what they've done, that has given me inspiration to work harder, run fast, train harder in practice … and just push myself to be a better runner."
Now Bolt moves on to his next challenge: the 200 meters, which begins on Tuesday. So he's off to sleep. But not before dropping one other little tease before the lights go out. How about Rio de Janeiro in 2016? Any chance of a 100-meter three-peat?
"I hope I'm there," Bolt said. "I'm going to be 30, but I think I'll still be in good shape. Blake will be 26, so it should be interesting."
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