ROME (AP) — Justin Gatlin beat Usain Bolt by a hundredth of a second Thursday night to win the 100 meters at the Golden Gala meet, the Jamaican’s first significant loss since his false-start disqualification in the 2011 world championships in South Korea.
Gatlin was timed in 9.94 seconds and was restrained in his celebration, just clapping his hands rapidly. The American has won all five of his 100-meter races this year and is shaping up as a serious threat to Bolt at the world championships in Moscow in August.
“This year, I just want to be able to put together a better race, give him some competition when he’s at his top form, to make it a more epic race,” Gatlin said. “He’s a legend. He’s done great things and I just want to go out there and just fight to the end.”
Bolt briefly covered his face with his hands after the race, then saluted the crowd. After things settled down, Bolt went over and shook Gatlin’s hand and congratulated him.
“For me it is just going through the season,” Bolt said. “Put things together for the world championships. The season is still very early.”
Bolt, the world-record holder and six-time Olympic champion, struggled in the first 50 meters despite his strong start. He started to gain ground on Gatlin near the finish, but would have needed a bit more track to overtake him.
“That was ridiculous — a perfect start and then I just cropped off,” Bolt said. “I think it was this perfect start that threw my game off. I have to do more strength work, I guess. I think it needs just some time to get it all back together. At the end it was just not me.”
In perfect conditions before a Stadio Olimpico crowd of 52,305, Bolt was second in 9.95 and Jimmy Vicaut of France third in 10.02.
“I came into this race trying to figure out where I was,” Bolt said. “Now I just need to go back and watch the tape and see what went wrong and what I need to work on and compete better next time. … The fact that I lost this race is a good thing.”
Still, it was a vast improvement for Bolt from his first 100 this year. A month ago, he won in a relatively slow 10.09 in the Cayman Islands while he was dealing with a hamstring injury. Bolt beat one of his training partners, Kemar Bailey-Cole, in a photo finish. Both recorded the same time.
“At least I got under 10 seconds,” Bolt said. “My legs did not feel the energy. At 50 meters I had some problems, but the rest of the race was not bad.”