|Jamaica's Usain Bolt (L) races to win the men's 100m final during the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium August 5, 2012. Photo by Stefano Rellandini, Reuters.
LONDON - Usain Bolt fired up a cool evening at London's Olympic Stadium as only he can when he retained his 100 metres title with a thrilling reassertion of his status as the world's supreme sprinter on Sunday.
Banishing any doubts about his fitness and form, the Jamaican dipped across the line in 9.63 seconds - the second fastest time ever behind his own world record of 9.58 - to trample on the dreams of the seven pretenders to his crown.
"Usain! Usain! Usain!," chanted the 80,000 crowd as Bolt kissed the ground, somersaulted, struck his 'Lightning Bolt' pose and hugged his training partner Yohan Blake, who won silver for a Jamaican 1-2 in 9.75 seconds to match his personal best.
American Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion, took bronze in 9.79 seconds ahead of his compatriot Tyson Gay, who was fourth in 9.80. Jamaica's Asafa Powell was last after pulling up injured.
"For everybody who was in this race tonight, the four other fastest guys in the world, it was a real honour for me," said Bolt, who will now aim to defend his 200 metres title for what would be an unprecedented double double in the sprints.
"Some of you guys doubted me. I just had to show the world I was the greatest. It means I'm one step closer to being a legend. I have the 200 to go."
Bolt was the first man to retain the blue riband sprint title on the track. American Carl Lewis won back-to-back Olympic 100 metres golds but only after Ben Johnson had been disqualified for doping in Seoul in 1988.
The 25-year-old also ensured the flag of his beloved Jamaica would be raised over the Olympic Stadium on the 50th anniversary of the Caribbean island's independence from Britain in Monday's medal ceremony.
"I just wanted to make Jamaica proud," Bolt added. "I hope they were all standing up singing the national anthem."
Now surely rivalling reggae artist Bob Marley as his country's most famous figure, Bolt came to London intent, in his own words, on becoming a legend.
There was no element of myth, however, in a performance which matched the drama of his stunning run in Beijing four years ago and bettered it in terms of time to improve his own Olympic record.
After a better than average start, he caught up with pace-setters Gatlin and Blake by halfway and, with his long legs eating up the track, crossed the line half a metre clear of his rivals.
World champion Blake, who had beaten Bolt in the Jamaican Olympic trials to establish himself as the man most likely to upset his friend, was delighted to just to win a medal in his first Games.
"Usain knows what it takes, he is a world beater and he is the fastest man in the world," said the 22-year-old, who claimed the world title when Bolt was disqualified from the final for a false start last year.
Gatlin, who missed the Beijing Games while serving a four-year ban for doping, conceded he had lost to the better man.
"It feels good, regardless of what I have gone through," he said. "I did this for the people who support me. This medal is for them and they pushed me when I didn't want to push myself."
Gay, who turns 30 next week and is the second fastest man of all time, was on the verge of tears as he contemplated what was probably his last chance to win the Olympic crown.
"I tried man. I tried my best. I just came up short," he said.
There was American success earlier in the evening when Sanya Richards-Ross, who for five years has suffered from a condition that causes severe mouth ulcers and lesions of the skin, won the women's 400 metres in 49.55 seconds.
Overhauled on the home straight by Christine Ohuruogu in Beijing, the Jamaican-born 27-year-old held on as the Briton again stormed home from the final bend to finish in second place for silver.
Kenya's Ezekiel Kemboi reclaimed the 3,000 metres steeplechase title he won in Athens eight years ago in eight minutes, 18.56 seconds and immediately announced he would be quitting the event to move to the lucrative marathon circuit.
"I have two Olympic titles, two world titles and one Commonwealth title. That is enough. I will henceforth run marathon," he said
In the morning, Tiki Gelana had splashed her way through the London rain in two hours 23 minutes and seven seconds to become the second Ethiopian woman to win Olympic marathon gold.
"As soon as the rain started, I said to myself 'Thank God'," she said. "I love running in the rain, I have been doing that since I was a small child."
Kazakhstan's Olga Rypakova produced a season's best leap of 14.98 metres to take gold in the women's triple jump final, while Krisztian Pars secured Hungary's fourth gold of the Games with a throw of 80.59 metres in the men's hammer.
The day belonged, though, to Bolt.
"He's an unbelievable sprinter," said Trinidad's Richard Thompson, who finished seventh in the final. "The entire world says he's unbeatable and right