RIO DE JANEIRO — For 9.81 glorious seconds on Sunday, all the ills that have dogged athletics recently were forgotten as Usain Bolt stormed to victory in the 100-meter final to become the first man to win three successive Olympic titles on the track.
The Jamaican superstar trailed archrival Justin Gatlin, roundly booed by the Rio crowd for his doping past, until the 70-meter mark but then swept past the American, finding time to pat his chest as he crossed the line.
Gatlin, the 2004 champion who came into the race with the season’s fastest time of 9.80, took second in 9.89. Canada’s Andre de Grasse claimed bronze in 9.91 seconds — the same finishing order as in last year’s world championships.
Victory took Bolt a step closer to his goal of winning a historic “triple-triple” combination of gold in the 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relay in three consecutive Olympics.
Other than the 2011 world championships, when he was disqualified for a false start, Bolt has won every other global championship individual sprint race since 2008.
That equates to five Olympic golds and seven in the world championships. Throw in two more Olympic and four world championship 4x100m relay golds and the world record in all three events and that is total and utter domination
“This is what we train for. I told you guys I was going to do it,” Bolt, 29, told reporters. “Stay tuned, two more to go.
“Somebody said I can become immortal. Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal.”
Van Niekerk breaks 400 world record
South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk ran the fastest single lap in history to win the Olympic 400-meter gold medal in 43.03 seconds and break Michael Johnson’s 17-year-old world record on Sunday.
Running an extraordinary race in lane eight, the 24-year-old world champion got off to a flier and was streaking clear on the back straight before upping his pace even further to better American Johnson’s 1999 mark of 43.18 seconds.
“I believed I could get the world record,” Van Niekerk told reporters. “I’ve dreamed of this medal since forever. I am blessed.”
The South African flew across the line a good five meters ahead of 2012 champion Kirani James and held his hands to his head in disbelief before being embraced by the Grenadian, who took silver in 43.76.
LaShawn Merritt of the United States, the 2008 Olympic champion, claimed bronze in 43.85, the first time the top three had run under 44 seconds in the one-lap Olympic final.
“It was a crazy race, a great moment in history,” said Merritt.
American Johnson, who won back-to-back Olympic titles in the event in 1996 and 2000 and is considered one of the greatest sprinters of all time, was dumbfounded by the quality of Van Niekerk’s finish.
“Oh my God! From lane eight, a world record,” Johnson said on the BBC. “He took it out so quick. I have never seen anything from 200 to 400 like that.”
Rose wins gold in golf
Golf’s return to the Olympics after 112 years produced a thrilling Sunday — two major champions dueling in the afternoon sun and a cheery American firing an 8-under 63 to win bronze.
Matt Kuchar had locked in third place, but he left a 17-foot birdie putt inches short on No. 18 to finish at 13 under. He then watched Britain’s Justin Rose and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson fight for gold on the final hole.
Stenson’s birdie putt from 23 feet scooted eight feet past the cup, and he missed that one to finish at 14 under.
Stenson’s three-putt sucked the drama out of what might have been a nerve-racking 3-footer for Rose. Instead Rose had two putts to secure gold.
Rose (16-under) poured it home and celebrated in style, with a massive fist pump. Then he grabbed his shirt — the area over his heart — and displayed it to the ebullient spectators surrounding the green.
“It feels absolutely incredible,” Rose said. “The whole week, I’ve been so focused. I’ve been so into it. I’ve been so up for it. I’ve been just so determined to represent Team GB (Great Britain) as best as I could. It was just the most magical week, it really was.”
Murray defends tennis title
Britain’s Andy Murray beat Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro 7-5 4-6 6-2 7-5 in a compelling and gruelling Olympic tennis final on Sunday to become the first player to successfully defend the title.
Murray gripped his head and tears welled up after he clinched match point when he broke del Potro’s serve for the ninth time, then shared a long hug with the Argentine at the net.
It was the second-ranked player’s 18th successive victory after he also clinched his second Wimbledon title in July. He did not play again after the grass court grand slam until the Rio tournament.
Del Potro, whose ranking has slipped to 141 after a series of wrist injuries over the past six years have kept him out of the game for prolonged periods, beat top seed Novak Djokovic and Spain’s Rafa Nadal to reach the final.
It was also del Potro’s second Olympic medal after he won bronze in London.
Japan’s Kei Nishikori earlier beat Nadal 6-2, 6-7 (1), 6-3 to clinch bronze.
US men survive France
The U.S. men’s basketball team closed out pool play with an unbeaten record and at the top of Group A but another nervy 100-97 win over France on Sunday confirmed getting to the top of the Olympic podium will not be an easy climb.
After a pair of blowouts with China and Venezuela to open the Olympic tournament, the United States has received a wakeup call in the way of narrow three-point wins over France and Serbia and a battling, 10-point victory against Australia.
The alarm bells continued to ring on Sunday as the United States allowed France, playing without talismanic point guard Tony Parker, to come back from a 16-point deficit late in the third quarter to turn what should have been a rout into another nail-biter.
Despite their troubles, the United States finished pool play a perfect 5-0 while running their Olympic winning streak to 22 games and were still the favourite to claim what would be a third straight gold on the final day of the Games.
The United States will not know their quarterfinal opponent until after the final Group B matches on Monday.
US women rout China
The U.S. women’s basketball team wrapped up Olympic preliminary-round play in familiar blowout style by routing China 105-62 on Sunday, storming into the quarterfinals unbeaten and on course for a sixth straight gold medal.
Brittney Griner and Tina Charles, two of five members of the U.S. team who spent time playing professionally in China, both had a game-high 18 points.