BEIJING, August 23- Usain Bolt said his last-gasp world 100m victory over controversial rival Justin Gatlin on Sunday was the “hardest” of his sparkling career — but quickly added that it was never in doubt.
Bolt scorched home at Beijing’s Bird’s Nest in 9.79 seconds, beating off a stumbling Gatlin by just one-hundredth of a second in a thriller of a race.
The win meant Bolt retained his world 100m title and continued his amazing domination of sprinting, having now won 10 of 11 individual sprint titles on offer since he notched up the sprint double in the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
With global track and field mired in doping allegations in the build-up to the worlds and Gatlin a two-time offender, Bolt’s win also carried more potent overtones.
“This was definitely my hardest race,” said the 29-year-old Jamaican who missed six weeks of action this year with pelvic joint pain.
“I’ve been through a lot this season and Justin’s been running great and showing up fast times.
“I’ve learned over the years that when Justin Gatlin comes to a championship, he always shows up. I knew that if I came here to win I’d have to run a great race.”
Bolt added: “I’ve been struggling up and down so for me to come together at the right time, it’s a great victory.
“It’s definitely number one when it comes to competition.”
While agreeing that he was an example that it was possible to race clean, through “hard work and dedication”, Bolt was quick to avoid other questions about whether his victory over Gatlin was a symbolic strike against athletes who have doped.
“That’s for you guys to write,” he told reporters. “For me I came here to add to my legendary status and to win and continue my championship rise.
“You can ask any top athlete — anyone who doubts themselves, then they’ve already lost the race. I never doubt myself and I know my ability. All I had to do was put together a good race. It wasn’t perfect but I got it done.”
Gatlin, unbeaten since August 2013 and in the form of his life at the age of 33 having served a year’s ban in 2001 and then sat out 2006-10 after a positive testosterone test, was magnanimous in defeat.
“If I had to lose to anyone, it’d be to this man here,” he said, pointing at Bolt.
“I had a good stretch and showed my competitiveness. The last five metres were crucial here, I leaned too far forward coming to the finish line and caught myself off-balance. I looked across and he was there!”
There was less joviality when Gatlin was asked for a reaction to whether Bolt’s victory was significant for the sport.
A stony-faced Gatlin replied: “Nothing. Specifically nothing.”