Bolt clocked 9.81 seconds in the blue-riband race of the Games on a warm winter night in Brazil, coming from behind as he did at the 2015 worlds and showing no signs of a recent hamstring injury.
He flew past American rival Justin Gatlin who had to settle for silver yet again in 9.89 seconds. Canada’s Andre de Grasse took bronze in 9.91.
Bolt, who turns 30 on the day of the Rio closing ceremony, August 21, claimed 100m, 200m and 4x100m trebles at the 2008 and 2012 Games, a feat never achieved before and which aims to complete again in Rio, with the 200m final on Thursday and the relay the next day.
The world records of 9.58 and 19.19 seconds respectively – both from 2009 – further underline his dominance on the track, along with 11 world titles including trebles in 2009, 2013 and 2015.
“This is what I came here for, to prove to the world that I am the best, again … This is the first step in the right direction. I am happy and I am proud,” Bolt told a scrum of reporters once finally arrived in the mixed zone some two hours after the race.
“It was very hard but I was focussed. I told you I wanted to set myself apart from everybody else, and this is the Olympics so I came here focussed and ready to go and it was brilliant.”
But Bolt was not the only star of the night as minutes earlier world champion Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa set an astonishing 400m world record of 43.03 seconds for gold, taking .015 of a second off Johnson’s 43.18 from the 1999 world championships in Seville.
The reigning world champion Van Niekerk, 24, entered the home stretch in first place even increased his lead for a resounding victory ahead of 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada (43.76) and 2008 gold medallist LaShawn Merritt of the US (43.85)
“I thought someone was going to catch me, because I felt very alone and I was like ‘what’s going on, what’s going on?’ It gave me so much motivation to keep on pushing,” Van Niekerk said.
Bolt received a rousing welcome with “Bolt Bolt” chants from the excited sellout crowd. Gatlin by contrast was jeered by many fans before the start, likely owing to his past as a two-time doping offender.
Having already looked sharp in the semi, Bolt produced a familiar modest start while Gatlin shot out of the blocks for an early lead, but he soon got going and left his rival with no chance in the later stages of the race.
Bolt went on his lap of honour with a stuffed Games mascot in his arm as reggae music echoed around the arena and the fans screamed in excitement.
“I know I would have a bad start and all I could tell myself was ‘don’t panic, take your time and work your way back.’ And that’s what I did,” Bolt said.
Gatlin, 34, said: “Being the oldest guy in the field and being on the podium is a victory within itself. To come out here and race against Usain, he rises to the occasion and its an honour to be a part of history.”
Elsewhere, Jemima Sumgong became the first Olympic women’s marathon champion from Kenya after avoiding a protester in the closing stages, and two-time world champion Caterine Ibarguen gave Colombia a first ever Olympic athletics gold by dominating the triple jump.
In preliminary action, world champion Allyson Felix coasted into the women’s 400m final while 2008 Olympic gold medallist Christine Ohuruogu crashed out. Ethiopia’s world champion and world record holder Genzebe Dibaba made the 1,500m final.
Monday’s finals, apart from the 400m, are the women’s hammer throw and steeplechase, and the men’s 800m and pole vault.
Source: GNA/News Ghana