ROME – At the Golden Gala meet here Thursday American sprinter Justin Gatlin narrowly defeated Jamaican Usain Bolt, capturing the 100 meter gold with a time of 9.94 seconds.
Bolt, who received the silver, finished with a time of 9.95 seconds, suffering his first major loss since his false-start disqualification at the 2011 world championships in South Korea. Jimmy Vicaut of France finished third with a time of 10.02 seconds.
“That was ridiculous – a perfect start and then I just cropped off,” Bolt said. “I think it was this perfect start that threw my game off. I have to do more strength work, I guess. I think it needs just some time to get it all back together. At the end it was just not me.”
Bolt, who is a six-time Olympic champion, appeared to have difficulties in the first 50 meters of the race despite getting out of the blocks strongly. He appeared to be catching Gatlin toward the finish, but he was a little too late.
“My legs did not have the energy,” Bolt said. “At 50 meters I had some problems, but the rest of the race was not bad.”
Despite being the current world-record holder in 100-meter races, Bolt has gotten off to a surprisingly slow start this year. In his first race this year, he won with a slow time of 10.09 in the Cayman Islands, even though he was suffering a hamstring injury. He defeated his training partner Kemar Bailey-Cole in a photo finish, who finished with the same time.
Bolt remained positive after his defeat acknowledging that he is going through the motions in the early track season that will prepare him for the world championships in Moscow in August.
However, Gatlin presents a formidable hurdle in Bolt’s quest to capture gold in Moscow. Gatlin has won all five of his 100-meter races this year. He ran 9.97 seconds in Doha, Qatar, and a wind-aided 9.88 in Eugene, Ore., last weekend.
Thursday was the first time that Gatlin and Bolt had raced each other since last year’s London Olympics final. Bolt won the race with a time of 9.63 seconds, while fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake took silver with 9.75. Gatlin finished third with a 9.79.
Gatlin is managing to get back to his winning ways since he was suspended in 2006 for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug, ultimately leading to a four-year ban. At the time of his suspension he was the reigning Olympic champion, having won the 100 at the 2004 Athens Games.
Bolt will now travel to Oslo, Norway, to compete in the 200 and then return to Jamaica for the Jamaican championships. Gatlin will now focus his attention on the U.S. trials this month.