BEIJING (Reuters) - Jamaica’s Usain Bolt won the men’s Olympic 100 meters in breathtaking style on Saturday, thumping his chest as he streaked to victory in record time.
In an awesome display of power running, the 21-year-old obliterated his own world record, despite raising his arms in triumph well before he crossed the line in 9.69 seconds.
“I came here just to win, that was my aim,” said Bolt. “I didn’t even know I’d won the record till I did my victory lap.”
Bolt’s supremely self-confident run in the world’s most-watched race capped a magnificent day of sport in Beijing.
In the pool American Michael Phelps equaled Mark Spitz’s 36-year record of winning seven golds in one games. He could become an unequalled Olympian on Sunday if he and his U.S. team mates win their last relay race.
Phelps defeated Serbian Milorad Cavic in the 100m butterfly by one hundredths of a second, the narrowest margin possible.
Bolt’s victory was beyond doubt within meters of the starting block. He was ahead in a heartbeat and with 30 meters to go he glanced sideways and smiled in realization that he would win the showcase race of the Olympics.
The 21-year-old almost highstepped across the finish line to take the most coveted athletic crown meters clear of Trinidadian Richard Thompson who won silver in 9.89 seconds.
American Walter Dix won bronze in 9.91 but Bolt’s blistering speed made his rivals look like sluggards.
After scorching across the line, Bolt draped himself in a Jamaican flag, took off his golden running shoes and kissed them.
His performance sealed a remarkable transition from 200 meter specialist to winner of the showcase race of the Olympics.
Bolt only began racing the 100m in the last year, putting his fellow sprinters in the shade with his performances. He first really showed his threat in May, when he set a world record time of 9.72 in New York.
Bolt’s father said “yam power” won it for his son. Wellesley Bolt said Usain son was partial to the vegetable grown in the Trelawny area of north-west Jamaica where he was born. Local citizens believe the local staple has medicinal powers.
Much of Jamaica clustered around televisions to watch the extraordinary run and jumped for joy at the victory of the man dubbed “Lightning” by the media.
Despite a tradition of producing world class sprinters, the Caribbean island had never before won a men’s 100m gold at the Olympics.
Bolt can now set his sights on becoming the first man to win the 100m and 200m Olympic double since Carl Lewis in 1984. He will be full of confidence ahead of Wednesday’s 200m final.
“I am just focusing on the 200 meters now,” said Bolt. “I came here prepared and I’m going to do it.”
The much-touted clash between Bolt, former world record holder and fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell and world champion Tyson Gay never happened.
Gay, suffering from a hamstring injury, failed to qualify for the late evening final in front of a roaring 90,000-strong crowd in Beijing’s magnificent Bird’s Nest stadium.
Powell, 25, who has never won a global sprint title, finished in fifth place.
“I messed up big time,” said Powell. “My legs died on me. Usain ran an awesome race. I’m very happy for him.”
Phelps’ victory was equally dramatic. He trailed Cavic but lunged forward on his final stroke to win. The sporting phenomenon of the Beijing 2008 Games punched the air and screamed with joy as a capacity crowd in the Water Cube rose to hail him.
“It’s pretty cool, that’s all I can say,” said Phelps, who thought halfway he had blown it. “I am in a sort of dream world.”
“He can be called the best Olympian of all time,” Spitz told America’s NBC television, “not because he has more gold medals than anybody but in the way he’s handled himself and in the way he’s actually won under a tremendous amount of pressure.”
Phelps now has 13 career golds, four more than anyone else in the 112-year history of the modern Games.
Phelps’s success is down to total focus and the perfect swimmer’s physique of large torso and huge reach on short legs. His arm span is 3 inches more than his 6ft 4 height.
The only surprise was that Phelps did not win in world record time, unlike his other six title-winning swims in Beijing.
The women, though, were in record breaking form.
Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry, who had won three silvers already in Beijing, finally struck gold in the women’s 200 backstroke, bringing some rare cheer to her troubled homeland.
She shaved 0.85 seconds off the previous world best.
Britain’s Rebecca Adlington also smashed a 19-year-old world record to take gold in the women’s 800 freestyle.
Switzerland’s Roger Federer finally won the Olympic gold he craved to add to his well-stocked trophy cupboard. His doubles win will ease the pain of his quarter-final singles defeat and a poor season that has seen him lose his number one ranking.
Sweden’s greco-roman wrestler Ara Abrahamian was stripped of his 84kg-category bronze medal after he dropped it in disgust to protest a refereeing decision. Olympic organizers also threw him out of the Games for his medal ceremony protest.
Australia picked up two gold rowing medals but lost to Britain in a thrilling sprint for the line in the men’s four. Two more medals came Britain’s way in the cycling.
China’s gold medal charge paused on Saturday, with only one badminton gold coming the way of the host nation during the day as attention switched to sports where the Asian nation does less well.
China came second to the United States in the medal table in Athens and would dearly like to win this year to showcase a sporting superpower status to mirror a growing economic clout.
China leads the gold medal table with 27 to the United States’ 16.
Reporting by Beijing Olympic bureau; Editing by Jon Bramley