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Usain Bolt pulls away from field to defend 100-meter Olympic crown

UsaBolt left no doubt about who’s world’s fastest man capturing 100 meters. | David J. Phillip~AP

Usain Bolt left no doubt about who’s the world’s fastest man in capturing the 100 meters. | David J. Phillip~AP

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Updated: September 7, 2012 6:14AM

LONDON — It looked like a race for a while. Yes, that’s exactly what it looked like. A race. For about 60 meters, it had all the characteristics of an actual competition.

But then the man with the long strides, those track-gobbling strides … well, what was it he did? Did he find that elusive “second gear’’? Was that it? Or had he simply been playing with everybody for the first 60 meters? While we’re on the topic of toying with people, had he been playing with everybody for the past year?

Nobody knows.

What we can say with 100 percent certainty is that nobody other than Usain Bolt can do what he did Sunday. Nobody.

Whatever back problems, leg problems, head problems or existential problems he has experienced of late disappeared in the vapor trail he left behind in those last 40 meters.

With a worldwide TV audience estimated at 2 billion watching, Bolt won the 100 in an Olympic-record 9.63 seconds.

“I stopped worrying about the start,’’ he said. “The end is what’s important.”

Seven of the eight sprinters in the field finished under 10 seconds. The eighth, Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, likely would have, too, had he not pulled up lame with a groin injury. It was an outrageously fast night.

No one does outrageous like Bolt. When he was announced to the crowd, he pantomimed spinning records like a DJ, then went through a series of hand signals that would require an interpreter. Something about his barber, a bunny and who knows what else.

He was ready.

So was a raucous Olympic Stadium.

There was an even line of runners for those first 60 meters — among others, Bolt; Yohan Blake, who had beaten Bolt in the 100 and 200 at the Jamaican Olympic trials; Justin Gatlin, a gold medalist in 2004 who had served a four-year suspension for steroid use; and Tyson Gay, who had the second-fastest time in history behind Bolt.

There’s something elemental about the 100. It offers a definitive answer to the question of fight or flight: Flight sounds like a very good idea. Supersonic flight sounds even better.

That’s what we had. We had a group of men doing what nature tells most of us to do when we hear a gunshot, even if it’s from a starter’s gun: Run for your lives!

Everybody in the world understands a sprint. Fastest one from here to there.

So there they were, all in a row 60 meters into the race. And then they weren’t. It ended up looking like one man dragging the field behind him. Bolt pulled away to become the first person since Carl Lewis to win back-to-back gold medals.

Blake took the silver in 9.75, and Gatlin was third in 9.79.

It didn’t take long for the celebration to begin. The crowd chanted “U-sain, U-sain!’’ In response, he did a somersault, like a kid. You might have to go back to Muhammad Ali to find an athlete who loved the spotlight as much as Bolt does.

“He’s a showman,’’ Gatlin said.

We knew something was up in the semifinals when Bolt ran a 9.87, almost jogging the last few meters and wagging an index finger to the crowd, in case it didn’t know who No. 1 was. This is a man who knows a moment when it’s there to be taken.

After the race, a reporter asked him whether this gold medal would make him a legend, something that Bolt has said he wants to be.

“That’s a first step for me,’’ he said. “I think I have to defend my 200 title also, and then I’ll consider myself a legend.’’

Bolt said he wants to compete in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. He’d be 30 then. Anybody willing to count him out now? Didn’t think so.

It was another night of jam-packed action. South African Oscar Pistorius, a double amputee who runs on prostheses, finished last in his 400 semifinal with a time of 46.54, more than a second slower than he had run the day before. For the first time, there will be not be a U.S. competitor in the men’s 400 final. American Sanya Richards-Ross won the women’s 400.

But this was Bolt’s night. The 100 is the closest thing to a rock concert in sports. It’s an absolute blur of sound and sight. It’s a macho event that comes with its own unofficial title: the World’s Fastest Man.

That man is Bolt. You knew that, but admit it, you weren’t sure heading into the Olympics. All those stories about him not being right physically had planted doubt.

“There were a lot of people saying I wasn’t going to win,’’ he said. “There was a lot of talk. So for me it was even greater to come out and show the world I’m still No. 1, still the best.’’

All it took was for the lights to go on.

“I just ran, pretty much,’’ said the man with the perfect sprinter’s name.

Pretty much, he did.

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