In Depth

Usain Bolt strikes to beat Gatlin and win 100m gold - video

Jamaican 'saviour' comes good when it matters as rival Gatlin cracks under pressure in Beijing

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Bolt is back, and in Beijing, too, scene of his first Olympic triumph seven years ago when he took gold in the 2008 Games. Since then Usain Bolt has confirmed his reputation as the greatest sprinter in history but in the last 12 months his star has waned while that of Justin Gatlin, twice banned for failing drugs tests, has soared.

Though no one in the IAAF would ever admit it publicly the prospect of the 33-year-old American triumphing in the World Championships was the last thing the sport needed, after a harrowing few weeks in which claims of widespread doping have rocked track and field to its core.

Gatlin is the questionable face of modern athletics, while Bolt is the charismatic darling who has done so much to reinvigorate the sport in recent years. But the giant Jamaican has looked a shadow of his former self this year, while Gatlin was unbeaten in 28 races before the Beijing final and had posted the four fastest times of 2015 including 9.74 seconds.

Bolt had never been close to such a time, his injury problems still seeming to trouble him, with his best time of 9.87 coming in London's anniversary games last month. And there appeared there was little chance of his retaining the title he won two years ago in Moscow as Gatlin advanced to the semi-finals by winning his heat in 9.83 seconds.

Usain Bolt

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

Bolt, in contrast, took his in 9.96 over Gatlin's American teammate Mike Rodgers, and he nearly crashed out of the contest in the semis, stumbling just a few yards out of the blocks before eventually recovering to clock 9.96 seconds. Gatlin was all cold-eyed composure, however, in his semi, scorching down the track in a time of 9.77.

But come the final, come the Bolt, and the Jamaican - as he so often does - produced his best when it mattered most, rising smoothly from the blocks and matching Gatlin stride for stride over 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 metres. It was as the finish line loomed that Gatlin's nerve and technique failed him, and the rattled American lunged too soon to allow Bolt to take the gold with a time of 9.79 secs, 0.1 second faster than Gatlin.

The Canadian Andre De Grasse and the 19-year-old American Trayvon Bromell shared the bronze medal in 9.92.

"It definitely means a lot because I've been struggling all season," said a joyful Bolt later. "It took me a while to discover what was the problem. And it's all held together so I'm just happy."

Contrasting emotions for Gatlin, who will probably never have such a good opportunity again to beat Bolt. "Really, I gave it away," he reflected. "I stumbled in the last five metres, my arms got a little flaily... I leaned a little too far forward, and I got a little off balance."

The victory, and what it means for athletics, was best summed up by former Olympic 400m champion turned BBC analyst Michael Johnson, who said: "Bolt was challenged here more than he has been at any time during his career. Put on top of that the burden of 'saving the sport' which was placed on his shoulders, it means that the pressure was there. I have to give him so much credit for that performance."

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