LONDON — Four years later, still no one can catch Usain Bolt.
He is still No. 1, still the Olympic champion at 100 meters, still the fastest man alive, still history's greatest sprinter, still unmatched in his stirring ability to rise to the moment.
Having completed his work Sunday night in 9.63 seconds, an Olympic record, the second-fastest time ever run, Bolt put on a celebratory show for the 80,000 people in the stadium and the millions more watching from afar. His performance, after all, had happened just hours before Jamaica's 50th anniversary of independence from Britain.
In victory, Bolt wore the Jamaican flag around his shoulders like a superhero's cape. He did a somersault. He did his famous archer's pantomime and bathed in the adulation and camera flashes of the crowd, roaring in approval after it had been hushed only moments before at the start.
"It was wonderful," Bolt, 25, said. "I knew it was going to be like this. There wasn't a doubt in my mind."
It was the fastest collective 100-meter race in history with seven of the eight finalists running under 10 seconds. And four years after Bolt won gold at the Beijing Games, he again crossed the finish line with everyone else looking at his back. He has promised that these Games would again be his stage, and so far he has brought down the house.
"It means one step closer to becoming a legend," Bolt said.
He became the first man to defend his Olympic 100 title in competition on the track. Carl Lewis won at the 1984 Los Angeles Games and finished second at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, then was awarded gold after the Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson tested positive for steroids.
Later this week, Bolt will attempt to become the first sprinter to win the 100 and 200 in successive Olympics. He has four career gold medals and could leave London with six should Jamaica prevail again in the 4x100 relay. Just as important, he has extended his status as the face of a sport that has struggled for attention and validity in the wake of repeated doping scandals.
Despite all these superlatives, Bolt's victory Sunday was as surprising to some as it was resounding. After the Beijing Games, where he set world records in the 100 (9.69 seconds) and 200 (19.30), he lowered his marks even further in 2009 to 9.58 and 19.19. But the last two years have left Bolt seeming vulnerable from back problems, mechanical problems with the start of his race and questions about his party-loving personality and sustained resolve.
In Sunday's final, Bolt's countryman and training partner Yohan Blake, 22, had been considered the favorite by some experts. Blake won the 2011 world championship while Bolt was disqualified for a false start. Blake also beat Bolt in both sprints at the recent Jamaican Olympic trials, running him down from behind in the 200, something few thought was possible.
"It gave me a wake-up call," Bolt said. "I'm grateful for that."
Entering Sunday's final, Blake had run the fastest 100 in the world this year. He matched that time on Sunday, 9.75 seconds, equaling the fastest race he had ever run. Still, he had to settle for the silver medal.
The bronze medal on Sunday went to Justin Gatlin of the United States, who ran 9.79, a personal best. Gatlin won the 100 at the 2004 Athens Games, but the legitimacy of his achievement was later compromised by a four-year suspension in 2006 for testing positive for steroids.
Finishing fourth and just out of the medals was Lafayette graduate Tyson Gay, who was so choked up after the race, he couldn't speak. Gay's time of 9.80 would have been good enough to win every Olympic 100 gold medal other than the past two.
"I tried, man," Gay said as tears streamed down his face. "I tried my best."
For Gay even to line up in London was something of a medical marvel. He had surgery on his hip last summer and was running on grass up until 4½ months ago, because his hip was still too sore to take the pounding of track workouts. He hardly raced at all leading up to the U.S. trials, where he finished runner-up to Gatlin to earn an Olympic spot.
With a slight limp, he made the field for the Olympic final and almost earned a medal.
Almost made it even more painful.
"That's all I had, man," said Gay, who didn't make it to the 100 final in 2008. "I gave it my all. I feel like I ran with the field — came up short."
Gay may be the American record holder in the 100 and the 2007 world champion, but he's running out of time to capture that elusive Olympic medal.
He's going to be 30 on Thursday and things won't be getting any easier down the road.