BEIJING – Imagine if he had really tried. Pounding his chest, turning up the palms of his outstretched arms, mugging for the cameras before he even crossed the finish line, Usain Bolt rewrote the record books again and captured his first Olympic medal Saturday, toying with the field and running the 100-meter dash in a stunning 9.69 seconds.
His left shoe was untied when he crossed the finish line. Not that it mattered much. He could've walked across.
It was a blowout, a rout, no contest, as the 21-year-old Jamaican took a huge lead halfway through the race and finished upright, looking to his right to find not a challenger but instead a bunch of photographers recording history.
"It wasn't planned," the newly crowned "World's Fastest Man" said of his running celebration. "My aim was to come out and win. When I saw the time, I'm celebrating. I'm happy."
He broke his own record, set in May in New York, by .03 second and became the first sprinter to set the world record in the Olympics since Donovan Bailey ran 9.84 at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
"No one will get near it," fellow Jamaican Michael Frater, the sixth-place finisher, said of Bolt's record.
Bolt beat Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago by 0.2 second — more than a body length — while American Walter Dix was third. The race marked the first time six runners broke 10 seconds in the Olympics. There was no wind — the reading was 0.0.
Asafa Powell, the Jamaican who held the world record for three years before Bolt grabbed it, continued his string of disappointments in big races, fading to fifth for the second straight Olympics.
American Tyson Gay, who was supposed to be the third part of a so-called dream race, didn't even make the final, eliminated with a fifth-place finish in his semi.
Bolt's specialty has been the 200 meters, and he will be a heavy favorite to win that one next week in what would be the first men's Olympic sprint double since Carl Lewis in 1988. But Bolt persuaded his coach 13 months ago to let him try the 100, too — and what quick progress he has made.
"Usain was spectacular," Powell said. "He was definitely untouchable tonight. He could have gone a lot faster if he had run straight through the line."
Bolt is 6-foot-5, one reason he was never really pegged to run the 100 — men that tall aren't supposed to be able to get out of the starting blocks fast enough to win the shortest sprint.
Bolt actually skidded from the blocks in this one — not perfect, but then again, he didn't really need to be. He needed 41 strides to cover the 100 meters and practically loped past the finish line, looking to his right but finding no other runners there.
When he crossed, he kept running about halfway around the track. He did a hip-swiveling dance, blew kisses to the crowd, clowned around with arms out like a bird in flight, and held up the Jamaican flag. Later, he took off his golden spikes, which will, of course, look great next to his gold medal.
Bolt had always seemed Olympic champion material in the 200 meters, and there was long and spirited debate between him and his coach, Glen Mills, about which other race to make part of his program.
Mills liked the 400, thought Bolt was better built for that. Bolt didn't like that kind of work — too grueling.
So he committed to working on his starts, so important in these races. After less than a year of training in earnest, he lined up on Randall's Island in New York and routed Gay to set the world record at 9.72 seconds.
Even then, Bolt and Mills played games about whether he would go for the double at the Olympics. They were just messing with everyone. A guy this fast doesn't say no when the chance is there.
After he set the world record the first time, Bolt said he was happy to have it but wanted the Olympic gold as well. Records, he said, can be broken. Olympic golds last forever.
Bolt, of course, has both but insists he was only going for the win this time.
"I didn't come here to run the world record, because I was the world record-holder," Bolt said. "I came here to win."
He did, and he should be relatively fresh for the 200. He was able to let up in each of his four 100 races.
World record-holder Michael Johnson said earlier this summer that he's prepared to say goodbye to his 12-year-old record of 19.32 seconds, set in similarly stunning fashion at the Atlanta Games.
"Spectacular" and "untouchable," Powell called his friend and countryman. "He's definitely the greatest."
This wasn't a bad night for Thompson, the reigning NCAA 60-meter indoor champion who was in his first big-time final and hadn't run under 10 seconds this season. He was not in the conversation in the lead-up to a race that was anticipated as a three-man showdown between Bolt, Powell and Gay.
Dix also wasn't considered a contender, though the 2007 NCAA 100-meter outdoor champion has one thing in common with Bolt: He's also entered in the 200 and has a chance at two Olympic medals.
If Gay is going to medal, it will have to be in the 400-meter relay. The 2007 world champion in the 100 and 200 didn't qualify at the longer distance after pulling up lame at the Olympic trials six weeks ago. These Olympics were his first competition since then and they ended prematurely.
"Devastating," Gay said.
And it won't likely get easier.
Bolt hasn't reached his prime, he's routing people in his second-best event, and he practically jogged to the finish to win the biggest race in the most prestigious track meet of all.
"He's been running very well since he was very young," Thompson said. "It was only a matter of time."