LONDON • Usain Bolt insisted that he has cemented his legacy despite his shock defeat by Justin Gatlin in the 100m final at the IAAF World Championships in London.
Bolt, who will retire from athletics after the 4x100m relay on Saturday, was the strong favourite to win his 12th world title.
But after making a terrible start, the Jamaican was forced to settle for bronze in 9.95 seconds, behind Gatlin (9.92sec) and his fellow American Christian Coleman (9.94sec).
"I've proved to the world I'm one of the greatest athletes," said Bolt.
"I don't think this changes anything. I've done my part as an athlete, to uplift the sport and show it's getting better. I can't be too disappointed. I did my best. It's hard to be sad with the energy that the crowd was giving me."
The sell-out 60,000 crowd at the London Stadium roared for him during the final. Bolt, straining every sinew, fought all the way to the line but the pace and grace that took him to his world record of 9.58sec eight years ago have withered with age and perennial injury battles and this time, he ran out of track.
BEATEN AFTER A VALIANT EFFORT
I gave it my best shot but my body's telling me it's time to go.
USAIN BOLT, after finishing third in the final 100m race of his career.
A CLEAN PAIR OF HEELS
I'm just a runner. I'm back in the sport. I've done my time and I've come back.
JUSTIN GATLIN, the 100m gold medallist, referring to his two suspensions from the sport for doping.
"I needed to be in a better place after 30m but I just wasn't in that super shape I needed to be in," said the eight-time Olympic champion, who turns 31 this month. "I gave it my best shot but my body's telling me it's time to go."
At 0.183sec, he had the second-slowest reaction time among the eight finalists, with only China's Su Bingtian (0.224sec) getting off to a poorer start.
Bolt had complained about the starting blocks in Friday's heats. And he was given a warning by Coleman in the semi-finals, where the 21-year-old became just the sixth man - after Asafa Powell, Daniel Bailey, Tyson Gay, Yohan Blake and Gatlin - to beat Bolt in a competitive 100m.
Before Saturday, Bolt had a 28-race winning streak. Yet throughout this year, there had been the nagging feeling that he was uniquely vulnerable. He ran three 100m races this year before London, breaking 10sec in only one of them.
"No matter what happened this season I was going to come out and do my best," he said. "I did it for the fans; they really wanted me to do one more season."
Still, his legend remains intact. He is one of three men - the others are the Americans Carl Lewis and Maurice Greene - who have won three world 100m titles.
But no great runner has ever possessed Bolt's mix of race-day playfulness and ruthlessness.
He has been as good at communicating with the big crowds who have paid to see him, as he has been adept at shutting down all opposition on the grandest occasions.
Even in defeat on Saturday, he stole the show. He took the plaudits, did a lap of honour and posed for wefies with fans.
"I'm sorry I couldn't end it on a winning note, but I want to thank you for your support," said Bolt.
THE GUARDIAN, NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS