Justin Gatlin beat Usain Bolt by one-hundredth of a second Thursday to win the 100 meters at the Golden Gala meet — the Jamaican’s first significant loss since his false-start disqualification at the 2011 world championships in South Korea.
Gatlin was timed in 9.94 seconds and was restrained in his celebration. 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.
Bolt briefly covered his face with his hands after the race, then saluted the crowd.
“That was ridiculous — a perfect start and then I just cropped off,” he 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.”
On a delightful spring evening before a Stadio Olimpico crowd of 52,305, Bolt was second in 9.95 and Jimmy Vicaut of France third in 10.02.
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 nearing the finish but would have needed a bit more track to overtake him.
“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.”
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 dealing with a hamstring injury. Bolt beat one of his training partners, Kemar Bailey-Cole, in a photo finish. Both recorded the same time. Bolt also was beaten by Tyson Gay in August 2010 in Stockholm.
“For me, it is just going through the season,” Bolt said. “Put things together for the world championships. The season is still very early.”
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 Tyson 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.
Bolt will next run the 200 in Oslo, Norway, next week before he returns home for the Jamaican championships. Gatlin has the U.S. trials this month.