LONDON - Lining up for the Olympic 100-meter final, Usain Bolt wrapped up his signature prerace preening by lifting a finger to his lips.
Time to silence the critics.
He might not be better than ever. Clearly, he's back to being the best.
Pulling away from the pack with every long stride, Bolt surged after his typical lumbering break from the blocks and overwhelmed a star-studded field to win in 9.63 seconds Sunday night, the second-fastest 100 in history and an Olympic record that let him join Carl Lewis as the only men with consecutive gold medals in the Summer Games' marquee track event.
"Means a lot, because a lot of people were doubting me. A lot of people were saying I wasn't going to win, I didn't look good. There was a lot of talk," Bolt said. "It's an even greater feeling to come out here and defend my title and show the world I'm still No. 1."
Only sixth-fastest of the eight runners to the halfway mark, Bolt was his brilliant self down the stretch, his latest scintillating performance on his sport's biggest stage. At Beijing four years ago, the 6-foot-5 Bolt seemingly reinvented sprinting and electrified track and field, winning gold medals in world-record times in the 100, 200 and 4x100 relay -- something no man had ever done at an Olympics.
And the significance of Sunday's sequel?
"One step closer to becoming a legend," Bolt said. "So I'm happy with myself."
Ever the entertainer, the Jamaican kept right on running past the finish for a victory lap that included high-fives with front-row fans, a pause to kneel down and kiss the track and even a somersault. Thousands in the capacity crowd of about 80,000 chanted the champion's name: "Usain! Usain! Usain!"
Bolt's training partner and Jamaican teammate, world champion Yohan Blake, won the silver in 9.75, and 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin of the U.S. took the bronze in 9.79.
"It just feels good to be back," said Gatlin, who served a four-year ban after testing positive for excessive testosterone.
"To be honest, I went out there to challenge a mountain. I went out there to challenge the odds. Not just myself and everything I've been through, but the legacy of Usain Bolt," Gatlin said. "I had to go out there and be fearless."
Everyone in the final broke 10 seconds except former world-record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica, who pulled up with a groin injury.
At the last Olympics, Bolt announced his arrival on the global stage by winning the 100 with a then-record 9.69 seconds, even though he slowed down to celebrate by pounding his chest over the last 20 meters. That mark only lasted until the 2009 world championships, when he lowered the mark to 9.58.
But The World's Fastest Man had been something less than Boltesque since then, in part due to a string of minor injuries to his back and legs.
In 2010, he lost to Tyson Gay, the American who's a past world champion and cried inconsolably after ending up fourth Sunday in a time (9.80) that would have been good enough to win every Olympic 100 gold medal other than the past two.
A false start knocked Bolt out of the 100 at last year's world championships, creating an opening for Blake. Then came recent, much-discussed losses to Blake in the 100 and 200 at the Jamaican Olympic trials.
Bolt, a fast runner who likes to drive fast, too, was involved in a wee-hours car crash in Kingston in June -- not the only auto accident he's been in. His publicist played down the seriousness of the latest episode, but the hand-wringing in Jamaica intensified after the poor performances at the trials a few weeks later.
"The trials woke me up. Yohan gave me a wakeup call," Bolt said. "He knocked on my door and said, 'Usain, wake up! This is an Olympic year."'
"I had to show the world I'm the greatest," he said.
If that hasn't already been accomplished, Bolt sure is close. He will begin defending his title in the 200, which he considers his best event, in Tuesday's heats. He's also part of Jamaica's 4x100 relay team, of course, and wouldn't rule out taking part in the 4x400 this time, as well.
Some saw no reason to wait to see what Bolt does the rest of the way at these Olympics.
"There's no doubt he's the greatest sprinter of all time now," said seventh-place finisher Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago, who was 0.35 seconds back on Sunday.
Thompson was the silver medalist in Beijing, despite trailing Bolt by a hard-to-believe 0.20.
The margin Sunday was 0.12, and Bolt pushed all the way, making up for his usual slow beginning.
After he'd closed out his mugging for the cameras, even pantomiming spinning a record like a DJ, Bolt crouched into the blocks. Right before the starting gun, a plastic bottle was tossed from the stands and it landed on the track behind Blake's lane. But neither Bolt nor Blake noticed.
"When they say, 'On your marks,' that's when the focus starts," Bolt said.
He took a while, as usual, to get up to top speed, but once he found his extra gear, no one else stood a chance,