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Archant London reporter stunned by 100m final

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No matter what your true sporting preference, most people on the planet, every four years, will find the time needed to tune into the men’s Olympic 100m final.

It turns out only 9.63seconds were actually required to watch Usain Bolt successfully defend his title in east London.

The men’s 100m final is the blue riband event and this year’s race was expected to attract a television audience of 15 million in Britain alone.

It was the hottest ticket in town, 10 times oversubscribed during the ballot sales, but unlike the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Games, it was not a ticketed event for media.

I was, therefore guaranteed a seat in the tribunes, as long as I could find one.

Leaving nothing to chance, I entered the stadium a good four and a half hours before the big race. Others were still walking up and down looking for a free place with less than an hour to go.

The semi-finals gave us all a taste of what was to come, as Justin Gatlin exploded to the line to win the first heat in 9.82secs, before Bolt jogged through the final stages of the next race to clock 9.87.

GB’s Dwain Chambers had made a strong start in the lane next to the defending champion, but was passed in the final 30 metres and had to settle for 10.06, just missing out on a fastest loser’s spot.

The third and final heat was won by Bolt’s fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake, who won world championship gold in Daegu after Bolt was disqualified for a false start.

American Tyson Gay – the second-fastest man of all time – was second as young British star Adam Gemili finished in an impressive third place.

Gemili, a former Dagenham & Redbridge footballer from Dartford, has taken the athletics world by storm this year, running a personal best of 10.02secs and winning world junior gold in Barcelona a few weeks ago.

And he was only a fraction of a second off making the Olympic final at the age of 18.

The laid-back Bolt, of course, had sent his own shockwaves through the sport four years ago in Beijing, coasting to the Olympic title in a world record 9.69secs, which he lowered further to 9.58 in Berlin in 2009.

But the first Jamaican to win the Olympic gold – countryman Don Quarrie lost out to Trinidad’s Hasely Crawford by one-hundredth of a second in 1976 – had arrived in London with some questioning his ability to defend his crown.

Despite his customary slow start out of the blocks, Bolt’s victory was certain from about the 30m mark.

He had played up to the cameras in his normal fashion during the introductions as cameras flashed all around the stadium. But, as the crowd finally drew silent, the air was filled with just the sound of a helicopter hovering overhead.

Then the gun sounded and Gatlin, the 2004 champion previously banned for a failed drug test and fastest qualifier for this final, got his nose out in front in the opening strides.

Gatlin’s lead did not last long, however, as Bolt opened his long legs in devastating style, eating up the ground as he thundered towards the line.

Blake followed his training partner over the line to take silver in a personal best of 9.75, while Gatlin claimed bronze in 9.79, another career best, to leave a tearful Gay empty-handed as seven of the finalists went sub-10 seconds.

The Americans have dominated this event historically, producing 16 Olympic champions including Ralph Craig, who won in 1912 final despite several false starts and Jim Hines, the first to run a legal sub-10 second race, clocking 9.95 in 1968.

Britain have the second-highest number of champions with three, after Harold Abrahams won the 1924 title – a story immortalised in the film ‘Chariots of Fire’ – and Alan Wells claimed gold in Moscow in 1980 after a photo-finish.

Linford Christie was crowned in 1992, but disqualified from the final four years later for a false start, as Canada’s Donovan Bailey went on to win in a world record time.

But this is Bolt’s race now.

Olympic champions (US unless stated): 1896 – Tom Burke; 1900 – Frank Jarvis; 1904 – Archie Hahn; 1908 – Reggie Walker (SA); 1912 – Ralph Craig; 1920 – Charles Paddock; 1924 – Harold Abrahams (GBR); 1928 – Percy Williams (Can); 1932 – Eddie Tolan; 1936 – Jesse Owens; 1948 – Harrison Hillard; 1952 – Lindy Remigino; 1956 – Bobby Morrow; 1960 – Armin Hary (Ger); 1964 – Bob Hayes; 1968 – Jim Hines; 1972 – Valery Borzov (Rus); 1976 – Hasely Crawford (Tri); 1980 – Alan Wells (GBR); 1984 – Carl Lewis; 1988 – Carl Lewis*; 1992 – Linford Christie (GBR); 1996 – Donovan Bailey (Can); 2000 – Maurice Greene; 2004 – Justin Gatlin; 2008 – Usain Bolt (Jam); 2012 - Usain Bolt (Jam).

*promoted to gold medal position after original winner Ben Johnson (Can) failed drug test.

Total (26): USA 16 GBR 3 Canada 2 Jamaica 2 South Africa 1 Germany 1 Russia 1 Trinidad 1.

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