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Titles trump times for gold-hungry Bolt

Usain Bolt's achievements are so extraordinary that the Jamaican's sensational 9.76 seconds 100 meters victory in Rome on Thursday was greeted as a mere "return to form" after his sluggish outing in Ostrava last week.

In fact only Bolt, American Tyson Gay and compatriot Asafa Powell have run faster and the time would have been good enough to win every Olympic and world championship final until Bolt's world record 9.69 in the 2008 Games.

But everything the Jamaican does is measured against the mind-numbing numbers he posted in Beijing and then the 2009 world championships in Berlin, when he set world records winning the 100 in 9.58 and the 200 in 19.19.

Bolt too is past thinking 9.7 is anything to shout about as he told Reuters in an interview on Friday.

"Yeah, it was good and I was happy with my technique but we were not really stressed about the time, we're working on getting everything right for the (London) Olympics," he said of his partnership with coach Glen Mills.

"My start was good but my transition was not so good, my shoulders were slightly out and it's that sketchy transition we're working on.

"Everything's getting better though. I haven't had any injuries this year and I'm in good shape and spent some good time in the gym. Now it's about getting back my fluency, but it's still early in the season."

HECTIC SCHEDULE

How dispiriting it must have been for all Bolt's opponents who perhaps detected a chink in the armor as he labored to a 10.04 victory in the Czech Republic last week and said afterwards he was not quite sure why he had struggled to the slowest time of all his senior 100 meters finals.

His Diamond league run in Rome quickly crushed any idea of vulnerability and he put his improvement down to simply a better sleep and eating pattern after a period of travel.

Bolt continued his hectic schedule with a flying visit to London on Friday to help launch a Jamaican Puma kit and clothing line designed by Cedella Marley, daughter of the late reggae star Bob.

Asked what that sort of comeback does to the mindset of his rivals, Bolt said he never thought about it.

"All I know is what I'm capable of and if I can run 9.6 then nobody is going to beat me," he said.

His times, and the endless speculation about how much faster he can go, help fuel the Bolt bandwagon but for all the razzmatazz he remains a true athlete at heart and what motivates him is titles and his place in the sport's pantheon.

Only Carl Lewis has successfully defended the Olympic 100 meters title and the American's second gold came only after race winner Ben Johnson of Canada was disqualified for doping.

"I want that Olympic gold," said Bolt. "I want to run fast but winning it is what matters, that is the key, that is the focus."

"For me the 100 is the pinnacle, without a doubt, I have to win it. But I've told everybody I'm going to win the 200. I'm serious with the 200, I don't play around," he added.

A LEGEND

Nobody who witnessed his glorious world record runs in Beijing and Berlin would ever question his desire.

"A lot of people are hung up on times - I'm not. I just want to go out there and defend my title because for me that's what's going to make me a legend," said Bolt.

He knows his sport's history and is well aware of his position, not only for his spectacular performances but also for the way he engages the crowd and delivers a show to remember.

Bolt is also aware of the background interest in him to move up to 400 meters, a distance he looks perfectly designed for.

The 25-year-old, who said he was still developing physically, usually dismisses the prospect as "too much hard work" but added that Mills was not letting him off so lightly.

"People remember me as a junior and say 'Let's see what you've got in the 400'," he said. "I sense my coach wants me to run it, I think we'll have a showdown at the end of the year.

"I know that people have said that really would make me a legend (to add the 400 gold) but I think if I go out and run 9.4 and 18 something I'll still set the bar pretty high."

(Editing by Ken Ferris)