So now there can be no doubt. Even at five per cent short of full fitness, Usain Bolt is still the fastest man on the planet. By some distance.
The pride of Trelawny Parish, Jamaica, gave his seven rivals a metre start out of the blocks in the marquee event of the London 2012 Games, the men's 100m final last night, yet still gunned them all down. He did so in style, shifting into overdrive and clocking the second fastest time in history, 9.63sec.
It was 0.05sec down on the world record Bolt clocked at the world championships in Berlin three years ago but it was faster than his winning run at the Beijing Olympics, 9.69sec. Thus, with an Olympic record time, the 25-year-old sporting phenomenon entered the history books as the first sprinter to cross the line as the winner in two successive men's 100m finals.
It took a failed drugs test by Ben Johnson for Carl Lewis to be upgraded from silver to a repeat gold in Seoul in 1988. Thus, having struck twice, and both times in spectacular fashion, the Lightning Bolt successfully completed his mission to be entered in the annals of track and field as "a legend".
He did so by a margin of 0.12sec, approaching a chasm in sprinting terms. Bolt had to dig deep to do it, though, hauling his way past the American Justin Gatlin at halfway and comfortably resisting the challenge of compatriot Yohan Blake, the training partner he calls "The Beast".
Blake had beaten him twice at the Jamaican trials in Kingston last month, over 100m and 200m, but the 22-year-old had to settle for the consolation of silver in 9.75sec – completing a one-two for Jamaica on the eve of the Caribbean island's 50th anniversary of independence. Gatlin, a two-time drug offender, took bronze in 9.79sec, edging out his compatriot Tyson Gay by 0.01sec. Seven of the eight broke 10 seconds, a first in Olympic history.
The 80,000 crowd loved it – just loved it. "U-sain, U-sain," they chanted as the fastest man on the planet pulled his familiar Lightning Bolt pose. He also performed a somersault in front of the main stand on his clowning victory lap.
The prevailing atmosphere was nothing like as electric as it had been on "Super Saturday", when Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah plundered three golds for Britain in 45 minutes. Still, on a night when local girl Christine Ohuruogu raised the British track and field medal tally to four, with silver in the 400m, Bolt was happy enough.
"It was wonderful," he said of the acclamation he received in the stadium. "I knew it was going to be like this. There wasn't a doubt in my mind."
There had been a momentary doubt about the outcome of the race. "I was slightly worried about my start," Bolt confessed, though a bottle was also thrown towards his blocks from the crowd as the gun fired. Late last night the Metropolitan Police confirmed a man had been arrested.
"I slipped a little in the blocks," Bolt added. "I don't have the best reactions, but I secured it and that's the key. My coach told me to stop worrying about the start and concentrate on the end because that's my best."
Thus it proved. Blake, Bolt's stable mate in Glen Mills' Racers Track Club, might have taken advantage of his lack of fitness and form at the Jamaican trials, but the 22-year-old was no match for him when Olympic gold was on the line. "He works harder than me," Bolt said, "but I knew what I needed to do and I have great talent. He will do better next time because he was a little bit stressed this time."
Blake will not have long to wait for a shot at vengeance. The pair meet again in the 200m. The heats are tomorrow, the semi-finals on Wednesday and the final on Thursday.
Last night, though, Blake was content to have played second fiddle. "Usain is the fastest man in the world and I've got a silver medal; what more could I ask for?" he said. "To be the second fastest man in the world behind Usain is an honour."
It is that. Four years ago in Beijing Bolt looked unbeatable all the way. Over the past two years his shield of invincibility had taken a few piercings, though.
The scoliosis that plagued him in his time as a teenage prodigy has returned to trouble him. There was a loss to Gay in Stockholm in August 2010 and two to Blake at the Jamaican trials. There was the false start disqualification in last year's world championship 100m final. There has also been a hamstring problem of late.
Bolt arrived in London saying that he was "95 per cent fit" and "ready to roll". His performance in the heats on Saturday gave little away. He stumbled out of his blocks but swiftly moved into cruise control, winning with consummate ease in 10.08sec.
The question of his true form carried over into the semi-finals last night. Again he was slow out of the blocks but this time the thrust of acceleration was evident, taking Bolt a stride clear of the field before he eased down 12m from the line, winning in 9.87sec.
All three Britons exited at the semi-finals stage – Dwain Chambers, James Dasaolu and teenager Adam Gemili, the latter doing so in third place in his race behind Blake and Gay, clocking 10.06sec.
There was one question left to be answered. Did Bolt have enough in the tank to see off Blake and Gatlin? The answer came in an emphatic 9.63sec.Reuse content