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.”
Bolt also was beaten by Tyson Gay in August 2010 in Stockholm.
“I don’t keep count of how many people have beaten Bolt. But I can say it’s an honor to be able to race against him,” Gatlin said. “He’s been an inspiration for the sport. He’s brought so much to the sport that it has never had before, so he’s inspired me to be a better runner and a better entertainer for the fans.”
This was Gatlin’s third Diamond League win in the 100 this year. He ran 9.97 seconds in Doha, Qatar, and a wind-aided 9.88 in Eugene, Ore., last weekend. The wind this time was well within the limit.
Gatlin was racing Bolt for the first time since last year’s London Olympics final, which was the fastest final in track history. Bolt won in 9.63 — 0.05 off his world record from 2009. Yohan Blake took the silver in 9.75, with Gatlin the bronze medalist in 9.79 and Gay fourth in 9.80.
That was Gatlin’s first major medal since his career was derailed in 2006 by a positive drug test that led to a four-year ban. Gatlin was the reigning Olympic champion when he tested positive, having won the 100 at the 2004 Athens Games.
“Last year, I was a really great starter,” Gatlin said. “This year I’ve been working on my conditioning, trying to get my start back and make sure the middle of my race is stronger. Each race is important.”
Bolt will run the 200 at the next Diamond League meet in Oslo, Norway, next week before he returns home for the Jamaican championships. Gatlin has the U.S. trials this month.
In other events, Russians Anna Chicherova and Svetlana Shkolina — the Olympic gold and bronze medalists, respectively — shared the high jump victory at 6 feet, 6 inches. Two-time world champion Blanka Vlasic took third in her second meeting since returning from a 16-month ankle injury layoff. Vlasic cleared 6- 4¾ on her third attempt, improving on her winning 6- 4¼ in New York last month.
There was a surprise in the women’s 200 as Olympic champion Allyson Felix was soundly beaten by Murielle Ahoure of Ivory Coast. Ahoure clocked 22.36, while Felix never really threatened and crossed second in 22.64.
In the women’s 400, world champion Amantle Montsho of Botswana finished in 49.87 for the best time this year, extending her winning streak in the single lap to five races.
This year’s Golden Gala was dedicated to Pietro Mennea, the Italian who held the world record in the 200 for 17 years. Mennea, who won the 200 at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, died in March, aged 60.