London (dpa) - Usain Bolt may have stumbled in his heat as he
returned to the Olympics on Saturday, and been beaten a few times
here and there, but the Jamaican sprinter is certainly the top
attraction - and favourite - at the London Games.
The 82,000 fans in the Olympic stadium went into a collective frenzy when he showed up for his 100 metres heat and strolled through it half a second slower than his world record after a brief mishap after the start.
Further down in the stadium, personnel was busy hanging big black cloths to shield the mixed zone, where reporters talk to athletes, from the adjacent concourse to avoid major Boltmania scenes and halfway civilised proceedings once the final has been run on Sunday.
For anyone who was wondering why all the fuss, American rival Justin Gatlin had the answer.
"He's the equivalent of the guy walking on the moon for the first time," Gatlin told reporters.
Gatlin himself is an Olympic 100m champion, from 2004, and returning from a four-year doping ban, But the soft-spoken American certainly knows that Bolt towers above everyone else not only in size, but in pre and post-race bragging, general recognition, and, most importantly, on the track.
Bolt stunned the athletics world with three golden world record runs at the 2008 Games in Beijing in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m. He won the same treble at the 2009 worlds with world records in the individual races which now stand at 9.58 and 19.19 seconds.
Bolt also took 200m and 4x100m gold at the 2011 worlds but was famously disqualified for false-starting in the 100m final which gave fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake an easy run to the title.
Blake then also beat Bolt in the 100m and 200m at the Jamaican Olympic trials and a hamstring problem has added further uncertainty about the outcome of the Olympic races.
But Bolt is Bolt and thus the man to beat. He said after his heat that everything was fine and the start good despite the stutter.
"The reaction was good but I made a bad step and stumbled a bit. But it was good," Bolt told a mob of reporters. "I did some good training, I am feeling good, I am feeling back so I am happy. Without doubt I am feeling great."
Bolt aims to work on his status as a legend in London but there are half a dozen others who also want to be crowned the fastest man in the world in the blue riband final on Sunday at 2050 GMT.
Blake (10.00 in his heat), Asafa Powell (10.04) and the American trio of Ryan Bailey (personal best of 9.88), Gatlin (9.97) and Tyson Gay (10.04) also have their sights on silverware.
And given the class of the field, plus a fast London track already dubbed "magic carpet," and possibly favourable weather, the final may be the first in which all eight runners go below 10 seconds.
"It is crazy fast. It definitely looks like that unless you pull up halfway through the race you still might break 10 seconds," the newcomer Bailey said.
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