LONDON (Reuters) - Jamaican Usain Bolt blitzed to victory in a spectacular 100 meters sprint on Sunday, clocking the second fastest time ever amid deafening roars from 80,000 people packed into London’s Olympic stadium.
The towering 25-year-old broke the tape in 9.63 seconds, an Olympic record and second only to his own world mark of 9.58. He was comfortably ahead of compatriot Yohan Blake, considered his main threat going into the big event of the Games.
“Some of you guys doubted me,” Bolt told reporters after the race. “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’s feat capped off a thrilling weekend during which host nation Britain scored eight golds and fuelled a national wave of excitement at heroics on the tennis court, around the cycling velodrome, on the water and in the athletics arena.
China topped the overall medals table with 30 golds, re-taking the lead from the United States on 28 in a two-way tussle for bragging rights come the end of the Games on August 12.
Also grabbing headlines at home and beyond has been Team GB, third overall with 16 golds including two on Sunday as Andy Murray defeated Roger Federer in tennis at Wimbledon and Ben Ainslie became the most successful Olympic sailor ever.
But their achievements were temporarily forgotten at the main Games stage, where Bolt retained his title and remained on course to complete a double-double if he also wins the 200.
Chants of “Usain” rang out around the capacity crowd as he pointed to the sky with his trademark “lightning bolt” gesture, and basked in adulation during a slow jog around the edge of the track, draped in the Jamaican flag.
“My coach said stop worrying about your start, the best of your race is at the end, that’s where you rule,” said Bolt, who was disqualified from last year’s world championship final for a false start.
“So I stopped worrying about the start and I executed, so it worked,” he added after the race.
The most famous face in athletics was slow out of the blocks in the final and trailed silver medal winner Blake, who beat him in the Jamaican trials, and American bronze medalist Justin Gatlin, back in the mix after serving a doping ban.
But he reeled his rivals in with huge strides to make it an ultimately comfortable victory.
Jamaica’s 1-2 was a perfect birthday gift on the eve of its 50th anniversary of independence from Britain, and a cue for wild celebrations back home.
Bolt’s compatriot Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce got the party started on Saturday, also retaining her 100-metre women’s title.
Games chief Sebastian Coe described Saturday as “the greatest day in sport I have ever witnessed” after Britain took three athletics golds in less than an hour to deafening cheers, plus two in rowing and one in the cycling velodrome.
The home run continued on Sunday when Ainslie won the Finn class in the waters off Weymouth on England’s south coast to take his Olympic collection to one silver and four straight golds.
Murray turned the tables on Federer to grab tennis gold on Wimbledon’s Centre Court, four weeks to the day after Federer beat him in the Wimbledon final. The 6-2 6-1 6-4 thrashing of the world number one was the biggest win of Murray’s career.
“This has been the best way to come back from the Wimbledon final,” Murray said. “I watched the athletics last night ... The momentum the team’s had over the last week has been so good.”
Defeat virtually ended Federer’s chances of completing the “golden career slam” of all four grand slam titles and the Olympic singles crown as he will be 34 when the Games moves on to Rio de Janeiro in four years.
Not everything went Britain’s way, however.
Murray failed to add a second gold when he and Laura Robson lost to Max Mirnyi and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in the final of the mixed doubles.
Denmark’s Lasse Norman Hansen won the men’s multidisciplinary omnium on the cycling track and France’s Bryan Coquard took silver, pushing Britain’s Ed Clancy into third. It was only the second time in six events in the velodrome so far where Britain has not won gold.
Hungary’s double world champion Krisztian Berki broke British hearts as he dramatically snatched the Olympic pommel horse gold on a tie break ahead of home favorite Louis Smith.
And in sailing, Sweden’s Fredrik Loof and Max Salminen sailed a perfect medal race to beat Britain’s defending champions Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson in the two-man Star class.
On the track on Sunday during the build-up to the 100 dash, Sanya Richards-Ross of the United States won the 400 title at the third time of asking, ahead of British defending champion Christine Ohuruogu who snatched silver on the line.
In the men’s steeplechase, 2004 champion Ezekiel Kemboi regained his Olympic title to extend Kenya’s dominance in the race where it has won gold at every Games since 1984.
And Kazakhstan’s Olga Rypakova leaped to gold in the women’s triple jump with a best mark of 14.98 meters.
But Oscar Pistorius, the first double-amputee to run in the Games, failed to reach the 400 final when the South African finished last in his semi, despite being roared on by an appreciative audience.
Elsewhere at London 2012, China made history by claiming an unprecedented sweep of all five Olympic badminton golds as Lin Dan defeated Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei to win the men’s singles title, and Cai Yun and Fu Haifeng won the men’s doubles.
In the boxing ring, Russia’s Elena Savelyeva won the first women’s Olympic boxing bout in front of a packed crowd, bringing an end to the last all-male preserve at the Games.
Rejected in the past because of a perceived lack of global interest, women boxers were give a warm welcome in London when Savelyeva and North Korea’s Kim Hye-song were enthusiastically clapped into the ring for the first of Sunday’s 12 fights.
After winning a bout as fearsome as any of the men’s fights over the first eight days, India’s five-time world champion Mary Kom, one of the pioneers of women’s boxing, welled up with tears of pride and relief when she left the ring.
“I have been boxing for 12 years, I have been trying to play in the Olympic Games,” she said.
“Today is very emotional, today is my twins’ birthday, their fifth birthday, and I can’t celebrate their birthday. But I am fighting in the ring and winning, that will be a gift for them.”
The first gold of the 23 up for grabs on Day Nine was taken by Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia, who won a women’s marathon that started and finished in torrential rain on a course that took in many of London’s biggest tourist attractions.
Additional reporting by Kate Kelland, Gene Cherry, Mitch Phillips, Justin Palmer and Neil Maidment; Editing by Mark Trevelyan