A Russian rainstorm and fired-up US athlete Justin Gatlin made Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt look almost human at the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Moscow on Sunday, but he was still good enough to regain his world 100m title in a surging 9.77 seconds.
Former world and Olympic champion and twice-banned doper Gatlin was in the lead at the halfway mark, forcing Bolt to race a rival rather than the clock. But Bolt's time was still the second-fastest of the year, behind US sprinter Tyson Gay's 9.75 seconds. Gay was absent from the Moscow competition after testing positive for a banned substance.
The victory made amends for the one blot in the Jamaican's extraordinary career – his disqualification from the 2011 final after a false start – and underlined his value to the sport in the wake of a surge of doping cases.
"It was not revenge for Daegu [in 2011], I just came here to win this title," said Bolt, who finished ahead of Gatlin's 9.85 seconds and compatriot Nesta Carter's 9.95 seconds.
"My legs were sore after the semis and the world record wasn't on, so I came out just to win."
But it seems that even the presence of Bolt and local heroine, pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, was not enough to persuade Muscovites to give up their Sunday evening. Only about 30 000 fans witnessed Bolt's performance, devoured by millions around the world on TV, in the 81 000-capacity Luzhniki Stadium, which was reduced to 50 000 for the event.
The swathes of empty seats will come as something of an embarrassment to the organisers, who are already fighting a rearguard action in the wake of a series of damaging high-profile doping cases.
Those who stayed away missed the host nation's first gold of the championships. Russia's 20-year-old Aleksandr Ivanov won the 20km walk, a third successive win for the country in this event.
There were impressive victories for US athletes Ashton Eaton in the decathlon and Brittney Reese in the long jump, while Ethiopia's Tirunesh Dibaba claimed yet another 10 000m title and hot favourite Croatian Sandra Perkovic won the discus event.
But the night was always about the 100m final and that means it was all about Bolt.
He went through the rounds comfortably enough, though he looked a little pensive. And when a hot, humid day gave way to a thunderstorm minutes before the race, there was the merest hint that things might not go smoothly.
Gatlin, who handed the Jamaican a rare 100m defeat early in the year when he was short of full fitness, started well and was leading halfway through the race. But Bolt reeled him in at the 60m mark and drove through the finish line.
Carter held off two other Jamaican competitors – Kemar Bailey-Cole and Nickel Ashmeade – to take the bronze medal.
Bolt is undoubtedly the biggest name in the sport, but he is the first to cede the title of world's greatest athlete to Eaton. The US athlete is unquestionably worthy of the tag after winning the world title in style to complete a spectacular hat-trick, having won Olympic gold and broken the world record last year.
Eaton, who is just 25 years old, led from the first event on Saturday morning and poured on the pressure on Sunday with a 5.2m pole vault and a gutsy last javelin throw of 64.83m, giving him a virtually unassailable lead. A flawless 1 500m saw him triumph with 8 809 points.
Germany's Michael Schrader took silver with 8 670 points and Canadian Damian Warner took bronze with 8 512 points, both personal best tallies.
Reese sneaked into the long jump final as the 12th and last qualifier, but stamped her authority all over the event with a 7.01m leap in the second round.
Nigeria's Blessing Okagbare, who goes into the 100m on Monday, took silver.
Somalia's Mo Farah may have trademarked the last-lap burst in the past three seasons but Dibaba has been doing it for years, securing a hat-trick of world 10 000m titles to go with her two 5 000m world titles and three Olympic golds.
Kenya's Gladys Cherono tried to go with her but had to settle for silver, while Ethiopian Belaynesh Oljira beat Kenyan Emily Chebet to the line for bronze.
In early action, US athlete English Gardner set the pace in the first round of the women's 100m, crossing the line in 10.94 seconds.
A host of other US and Jamaican athletes are in with a shot at the title in Monday's final, when it is not beyond the realms of possibility that all eight lanes could be filled by athletes from the two sprinting superpowers.
Russia's double world and Olympic pole vault champion Isinbayeva made a low-key appearance to qualify for Tuesday's final, which is likely to be a noisy and emotional occasion. Isinbayeva has said she will retire after this competition. – Mitch Phillips