LONDON • It took 41 strides and 9.87 seconds for Usain Bolt to shout to the world what his camp have been quietly saying all summer. The Jamaican is back and ready to slug it out with Justin Gatlin at next month's world athletics championships in Beijing.
But Bolt had to grit and grind and come from way down the field at the London Diamond League meeting to beat American Michael Rodgers in a thrilling 100 metres final by just 0.03sec.
Such was the quality of the field that three other men also dipped under 10 seconds. Jamaican Kemar Bailey-Cole set a personal best of 9.92sec, Britain's Chijindu Ujah equalled his personal best in 9.96sec and Frenchman Jimmy Vicaut clocked 9.98sec.
Yet, all eyes on Friday, inevitably, were on Bolt. And the staggering thing about his performance was that there was still obvious room for improvement.
His start was slow and, in the semi-finals at least, he also slowed down before crossing the line, again in 9.87sec.
As the 28-year-old admitted afterwards: "I think overall it was a good run but my start was really poor. My coach said relax and let it flow. I really wanted to run faster but it's getting there."
Remember, too, that the weather could not have been less conducive to elite-level sprinting.
The rain, which had begun to hammer down in the morning, was soon slobbered over the paths to the Olympic Stadium and on the track. Indeed, the conditions were so bad that the pole vault was pushed back until yesterday.
Bolt, however, responded with the sixth-fastest 100m time in the world this year. It was a huge improvement on his one previous 100m time of the year - 10.12sec in Rio de Janeiro in April.
If Gatlin, who has run the four fastest 100m times in the world this year, was thinking that he could stroll to a gold medal in Beijing, this performance would have given him a sharp slap in the face.
Asked if his winning performances in the heats and final proved that he was still the world's No. 1, Bolt replied defiantly: "I was never No. 2.
"I am still No. 1," added the Olympic champion and world record holder, who has reportedly been clocking 9.7sec in training.
"I will continue being No. 1.
"Until I retire, that's the plan."
He has won every global 100m and 200m title contested over the past seven years, with the exception of the 100m at the 2011 world championships in Daegu when he was disqualified for a false start.
He might have missed six weeks of competitive action following the New York Diamond League meeting because of a pelvic problem but Bolt is back .
"I'm ready to go (to Beijing) and I'm ready to win," said the eight-time gold medallist in the world championships and six-time Olympic champion.
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE