LONDON – For Justin Gatlin, this was his last chance to beat Usain Bolt.
For Christian Coleman, this was his only chance.
They both did. But in the end, Gatlin stole the show from the showman.
While Coleman edged the Jamaican legend in their semifinal, Gatlin stormed out of Lane 8 to overtake both Bolt and Coleman in the 100-meter final at the IAAF World Championships on Saturday night.
“I believed in myself,” Gatlin said.
He became the first man to beat Bolt in a major championship in a decade (not counting his false start at the 2011 worlds). Gatlin’s winning time was 9.92, a season's best, while Coleman took the silver at 9.94. Bolt equaled his season's best at 9.95 for the bronze.
"It's just so surreal right now,” Gatlin said. “I jumped in the crowd and went wild. Usain has accomplished so much in our sport and inspired others like Coleman to come out and compete in the championships.
"Usain said: 'Congratulations, you deserve it.' And that's from the man himself. He knows how hard I work. Tonight was all about the W (win) and I managed to sneak it."
Gatlin, who was booed by the crowd for his doping suspension from 2006-2010, fell to his knees past the finish line, then took a victory lap draped in the American flag.
“I thought of all the things I would do if I won,” he said, “and I didn't do any of that. It was almost like 2004 all over again (for my Olympic title). I won by a little margin, and to be able to come across the line is amazing."
Gatlin is the first Team USA world champion in the 100-meter since Tyson Gay in 2007.
He said he tuned out the booing and “stayed the course.”
“It's not about the crowd,” Gatlin said. “I kept my energy through the semis and came to the final to do what I do.
“The people who love me, they're cheering for me. They're at home cheering for me… and that's what I've been focusing on.
After beating Coleman at the USATF Outdoor Championships in June, the 35-year-old Gatlin said, “I know I’m in the twilight of my career.”
On a chilly night before 60,000 in London Stadium, Gatlin was fired up like it was high noon.
Coming into the world championships, no one had beaten Bolt since Gatlin did it on June 6, 2013, in Rome.
Gatlin was the 2004 Olympic 100-meter champ, but since Bolt’s arrival, he was second last summer at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 and third in 2012 on this same London track. At worlds, Gatlin was second to Bolt in the 100 in 2013 and 2015 and also second in the 200 in 2015, though neither will race that event in London.
“We're rivals on the track and we've had a rivalry on the track throughout the years,” Gatlin said, “but in the warm-up area we were joking and having a good time and he said to me ‘Congratulations, you work hard for this, and you don't deserve all these boos'.
“So I think for all that and inspiring throughout my career he's an amazing man.”
Yet while Gatlin beat Bolt once, Coleman did it twice. The NCAA champion proved he could be the successor to the pair of 30-somethings in the sprints.
"It's an historic moment,” Coleman said. “[Bolt is] a man who has taken the sport to a whole new level. He's been an icon of mine as I've grown up. It's an honor to toe the line with him.”
Before the meet began, Coleman contemplated the prospect of dethroning the three-time champion.
“That would be crazy,” he said.
No, "crazy" was the streaker who ran down the straightaway with “Peace Love” written on his chest before being tackled by police.
This turned out to be completely realistic.
In the semifinals, the 21-year-old beat Bolt by one one-hundredth of a second – 9.97 to 9.98.
Bolt, who had FASTEST FOREVER written on his purple and gold shoes, has announced he will retire after worlds. Turning 31 on Aug. 21, Bolt is the world record holder at 9.58 seconds and still has the 4x100-meter in one week.
"My start is killing me,” said Bolt. “Normally it gets better during the rounds but it didn't come together. And that is what killed me. I felt it was there.”
He said the race “was rough. A little bit stressed. But I came out like at any other championships and I did my best. Thanks for the support. I could never expect this from any other crowd. They are what pushed me to do my best.”
Coleman came in as the world leader in the 100-meter after posting a time of 9.82 seconds – making him the fourth-fastest American of all-time behind Gay, Gatlin and Maurice Greene – at the NCAA meet in June.
Bolt came in tied for seventh on the world list at 9.95, but since the 2008 Olympic Games, he has always risen to the occasion when it counted (except for that false start in 2011).
Bolt had three Olympic gold medals in the 100 and was looking for his record fourth at the world championships, while Coleman is competing at his first world championships. His only Olympic experience was in the preliminaries of the 4x100-meter at the Olympic Games Rio 2016..
But he'd gotten advice on how to handle himself in big competitions from a good source: Gatlin. Both attended the University of Tennessee, and Coleman was the first to accomplish the indoor 60 and 200 and outdoor 100 and 200 sweep since Gatlin more than a decade earlier.
Gatlin said Coleman is like his “mirror image,” a younger version of himself, “a guy who’s hungry and he doesn’t want to lose. And he wants to be the best he can be.”
In the semifinals, Coleman was in Lane 4 and Bolt in Lane 6. Coleman shot out of the blocks, but Bolt – as he did in the heats when he complained about flimsy blocks – came out slowly.
But while Bolt moved efficiently from sixth place to first in the preliminaries, he couldn’t catch Coleman.
As they crossed the finish line, Coleman and Bolt turned and looked at each other.
Bolt couldn’t quite believe it, but Coleman could. Then Bolt smiled.
"I had to stay composed because I knew the atmosphere was going to be electric,” Coleman said.
They were next to each other in the final, Bolt at 6-foot-5 towering over the 5-9 Coleman. Because Gatlin had placed second in his semi in 10.09 seconds, he was on the outside.
Bolt did his usual mugging for the camera, smiling and pointing to his name while Coleman puffed his cheeks and breathed out, keeping a straight face. Gatlin looked grim.
Bolt was looking to cement his legacy. Coleman and Gatlin were looking for a crack, a final opportunity to derail the Bolt Express.
And they did.
Bolt was impressed by Coleman, whom he called a "young kid."
“If he works on a few things, he could definitely be better,” Bolt said.
But did he think there would be another Bolt?
“I don’t think so,” he said.