BEIJING • Over darkened Beijing skies, a moment of blinding light.
For two years, American Justin Gatlin has been the undisputed king of sprinting as well as athletics' most controversial character because of his doping past.
But Usain Bolt yesterday underlined his status as the fastest man on the planet, crossing the line in his season-best 9.79 seconds to beat his rival by just one-hundredth of a second.
American Trayvon Bromell and Canadian Andre de Grasse shared third spot after both timed 9.92sec.
China's only sub-10 man Su Bingtian failed to improve on his semi-final time of 9.99sec, finishing ninth in 10.06sec.
Gatlin, who timed 9.77sec in the semi-finals at the Bird's Nest stadium, is famed not only for having failed two doping tests but also for his explosive starts. But he was pegged equal with Bolt out of the blocks. And there was little in it until 80m. Then Gatlin, in Lane 7, overstretched and faltered through the closing stages while Bolt, in Lane 5, kept his nerve.
"It definitely means a lot because I've been struggling all season. It took me a while to discover what was the problem," said the Jamaican, who has now won nine world titles over 100m, 200m and the 4x100m relay to go with six Olympic golds.
"And it's all held together so I'm just happy."
It was the perfect answer to doubts that he could beat Gatlin - who has not lost over 100m or 200m since 2013 and has set personal bests for both distances (9.74sec and 19.57sec) this season.
Bolt had to respond in the semi-finals too to ensure that the showdown would take place.
Then, he tottered around the track for a few steps after coming out of the blocks and needed all his power in the final 50m to get back on terms with de Grasse, who was also awarded a time of 9.96sec.
The difference between Gatlin and Bolt was that the former stumbled when it mattered most.
Five times this year, the American had run faster than 9.80sec but, when the pressure was on yesterday, he blinked.
"Really, I gave it away," said the 33-year-old.
"I stumbled in the last five metres, my arms got a little flaily."
However he denied that the expectations had got to him in his first meeting with Bolt over 100m since the last final in the Moscow World Championships in 2013, when he also came second to the Jamaican.
"No, I've had pressure since 2011," he said.
"You have to come out and run and over the last five metres, it wasn't my day to do so.
"I leaned a little too far forward, and I got a little off balance."
With allegations of widespread doping dominating the build-up to this World Championships, the sport's pantomime villain Gatlin's showdown with Bolt was billed as a battle for clean athletics.
In fact, the nine-lane final had three others who have served doping bans: Jamaica's Asafa Powell and Americans Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers.
Bolt is the first to decry the idea that he is the "saviour" of track and field but global athletics chiefs will no doubt, at least in private, heave a huge sigh of relief at his win.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN