MOSCOW — His legs were hurting, the rain was pouring and he was trailing late in the race.
Doesn’t matter. This is Usain Bolt.
And nothing gets in the way of him and first place, especially when he’s driven as he was Sunday night in the 100-meter final at the world championships.
Bolt blew by Justin Gatlin with about 30 meters to go and never glanced back. He also didn’t even crack a smile when he crossed the finish line because this took a lot more work than the world’s fastest sprinter usually needs.
Gatlin was second and Bolt’s Jamaican teammate Nesta Carter took third.
Of all Bolt’s titles, this one will have a special meaning, considering he false-started two years ago in the final to lose his crown.
Now, it’s his again.
“It’s always great to get back your title,” said Bolt, who won in 9.77 seconds. “I’m happy with myself I got it done.”
Like Bolt, Brittney Reese and Ashton Eaton were just as dominant. Reese won her third straight long jump gold, while Eaton now owns the world and Olympic decathlon titles.
Many of Bolt’s top rivals were missing. Gone were Tyson Gay (doping offense) and Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake, who was the reigning champion but skipped the worlds because of an injured hamstring.
Shortly after the race, Bolt sauntered around the track with his country’s flag tied around his neck like a cape. These days, he has to be the Superman of his sport. Given all the recent doping scandals, track needs someone to save the day.
For now, he will settle for blowing away the dark cloud over his country, a proud sprinting nation. Some of Jamaica’s most decorated sprinters have taken a fall: Asafa Powell, Sherone Simpson and Veronica Campbell-Brown all tested positive for a banned substance and weren’t at the worlds.
“I’m just doing my part by running fast, winning titles and letting the world know you can do it clean,” Bolt said. “My focus is to continue doing what I do.”
And that means running fast times, even on a drenched track.
What started as a steady drizzle turned into a downpour just before the gun sounded. So much so that Bolt clowned around when he was introduced to the crowd, pretending to open an umbrella.
Really, though, rain doesn’t bother him. Not in the least.
Neither does anything else, like falling behind early. He knew he might trail Gatlin at the halfway mark. Bolt has never been a good starter and may have been extra cautious considering what happened in South Korea two years ago.
In the lane next to him, Gatlin got off to a great start and thought he might have enough in the tank to beat Bolt, just as he did two months ago in Rome.
“Then I saw these long legs coming up on my right side,” Gatlin said. “He’s great. He’s just great.”
These two aren’t exactly the best of friends, but after the race, Gatlin congratulated Bolt, who had some kind words in return.
“For him to say to me, ‘Hey, you’re the guy who pushes me to go even faster.’ I’m honored in that,” Gatlin said. “But I thought I had it for a second.”
Only this is Bolt, the best finisher around. He sniffed the finish line and turned on the turbo jets. He did have to labor hard, though, grimacing as he crossed the line. Some of that may have been due to his legs, which he said were sore.
Even at less than 100 percent, Bolt is still downright difficult to beat.
“I wanted to run faster, but after the semifinals my legs didn’t feel up to it,” Bolt said. “Don’t know what happened. I’m going to get it worked on. Hopefully I won’t have this problem in the 200 meters. Overall, it was a good race.”
Mike Rodgers tried to get inside the head of Bolt after their semifinal matchup, staring up at the tall sprinter. Bolt got out to a big lead in that race earlier in the event and began loafing toward the finish line. Rodgers didn’t particularly care for that.
“He thought he was going to slow down, like he could play with everybody,” said Rodgers, who wound up sixth in the final. “I guess he knows he can’t.”
Perhaps. Bolt still won convincingly – once he got up to full stride.
“I never look at things as easy. I put in hard work,” Bolt said. “That’s why I’m a champion. I keep pushing myself as a champion, no matter what. I push myself because that’s what it takes.”
In other finals, Olympic champion Sandra Perkovic of Croatia won the discus, Aleksandr Ivanov of Russia captured the men’s 20-kilometer walk and Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia dominated the 10,000.
The morning session featured few surprises. The Americans were in solid position for a medals sweep in the 110-meter hurdles, with defending champion Jason Richardson, Olympic gold medalist Aries Merritt, Ryan Wilson and the season’s fastest man, David Oliver, all cruising through their heats.
In the opening round of the women’s 100, English Gardner had the top time of 10.94 seconds and will be a favorite in the final.
American teen Mary Cain made up ground late in the race to move on in the 1,500 meters and 2008 Olympic gold medalist LaShawn Merritt posted the top time in the 400.
But this night belonged Bolt, fitting with lightning flashing overhead before his race.
“You never go into a race worried,” he said. “You always got to be confident in yourself. That’s what I was.”