RIO DE JANEIRO – Usain Bolt can’t be beaten in Olympic 100-meter finals no matter how hard Team USA’s Justin Gatlin tries.
Bolt, the Jamaican sensation, won his unprecedented third straight Olympic gold medal in the 100 at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, surging past Gatlin. Bolt clocked a season best of 9.81 seconds in front of almost a full house at Olympic Stadium chanting “Bolt! Bolt! Bolt!”
“No one has done it,” Bolt said. “For me to come out and do it is just magnificent.
“This is what I needed to prove again and again. And I just want to be amongst the greats.”
Gatlin, who led at the midpoint of the race, was second in 9.89 followed by Andre De Grasse of Canada in 9.91. Trayvon Bromell of Team USA, the 20-year-old who tied for third at the 2015 world championships and won the world indoor title in March, ran from Lane 1 and placed eighth in 10.06.
“I’m a competitor, he’s a competitor,” Gatlin said. “When it comes down it, I guess I’ve given him his closest races of his career.”
Gatlin is the first man in Olympic history to win a gold (2004), silver (2016) and bronze (2012) medal in the 100.
“I’m so happy to be able to come out here at the age of 34 and still be able to make the podium,” Gatlin said. “And tomorrow when I get on that podium (for the awards ceremony), I’m going to be happy because I’m going to be the oldest guy ever to get on the podium in the 100 meters and win a medal.”
Linford Christie of Great Britain was 32 when he won the gold medal in 1992.
Last year appeared to be Gatlin’s best chance to beat Bolt in a major championship – and he blew it. Gatlin came into the 2015 world championships in Beijing unbeaten and with the fastest time in the world.
He was ahead midway through the race, but when Bolt pulled even with him with about 15 meters to go, Gatlin stumbled and lost form. Bolt finished in 9.79, Gatlin in 9.80.
Going into Rio, Gatlin posted the two fastest times in the world at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field – 9.80 and 9.83 – while Bolt was dealing with a hamstring injury that forced him to withdraw from the Jamaican trials. He received a medical exemption onto the Jamaican team and his season’s best time of 9.88 made him only the fourth best performer on the season behind Gatlin, Bromell and Jimmy Vicaut of France.
Bolt had a tough act to follow after Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa set a world record of 43.03 in the men’s 400-meter, followed by 2012 gold medalist Kirani James of Grenada and American LaShawn Merritt, the 2008 Olympic champion.
Bolt, who plans to run at least through the 2017 world championships in London, said all along that he wanted to win that incomparable third straight Olympic title in the 100-meter. His teammate, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, fell short Saturday night in the women’s 100, taking the bronze medal behind Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson and Tori Bowie of Team USA.
“Bolt is a showman,” Gatlin said at the Olympic Trials. “He’s going to show up. He’s going to do his job. And I think that if he wasn’t ready to be able to defend his title, he would have said, ‘I’m going to just sit out.’”
Before Bolt stormed on the scene, the last man to win the 100-meter Olympic title was none other than Gatlin, who won in 2004.
Since then, he served a four-year ban for doping from 2006 to 2010 and came back to the forefront of U.S. sprinting. That suspension has cast Gatlin as “the villain” in the eyes of some and he was booed by the crowd. Bolt, the ultimate showman who mugs for the crowd before races and puts his fingers to his lip to say “shhhh” before every start, is their hero.
“That's the first time I've gone into a stadium and they've started to boo Gatlin,” Bolt said. “It surprised me."
Gatlin started to tear up when he heard that Bolt was shocked at the booing.
“Usain is the guy I always know Usain is,” Gatlin said. “A respectable guy. He’s always respected me. He’s never talked bad about me. He’s always showed me the respect of being one of his top competitors. And I honor that. When I come out, I try to give it my all. And he’s always a great competitor so I’m honored to race against him.”
Gatlin believes he’s been unfairly treated in the media, which emphasize his doping ban. “I never talk trash about anybody,” he said. “When I’m at any meet around the world, I respect my competitors. I wish them well. And if they win, I still congratulate them. We all work hard. Regardless of everything I’ve been through in my life, I still have the utmost respect for Usain and anybody who lines up against me.”
Bolt’s time was well off his world record of 9.58 at the 2009 world championships and his Olympic record of 9.63 in 2012.
He ran faster in the semifinals, which he said gave him confidence. In the semi, Bolt looked left, he looked right and had a big grin on his face about 20 meters before coasting across the finish line with a time of 9.86 seconds – his fastest time this year.
Bolt said it was hard to run fast in the final because the turnaround time was too short – only 85 minutes.
“It was ridiculous as far as I’m concerned because I felt so good in the semifinals,” he said. “I was like, ‘Yo, I probably could run a fast time,’ but by the time you get back to the warmup area and start warming up again, it’s time to go back out. For me, it was really stupid, I don’t know who decided that. So that’s why the race was slow.”
But he said the time didn’t matter. “It’s all about winning.”
The third U.S. athlete, Marvin Bracy, was sixth in his semifinal with a time of 10.05 and did not advance.
Bolt and Gatlin are expected to meet again in the 200-meter where Bolt will try to become the first man to win three straight 200-meter titles. He will also attempt to tie Frank Wykoff of the U.S. for most 4x100-meter wins. Wykoff won his three from 1928 to 1936, when his teammate was the legendary Jesse Owens.
"Somebody said I can become immortal,” said Bolt. “Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal."