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, 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."
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.
In 2010, Bolt 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.
"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.'"
There were other events on Sunday's schedule, and Sanya Richards-Ross won the only U.S. gold at the track so far. She erased the bad memory of her bronze-medal finish in Beijing by accelerating down the stretch to win the 400 meters in 49.55.
Other winners were Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya in the men's steeplechase, Krisztian Pars of Hungary in the men's hammer throw, Olga Rypakova of Kazakhstan in the women's triple jump, and Tiki Gelana of Ethiopia in the women's marathon. Oscar Pistorius, the amputee "Blade Runner" from South Africa, finished last in his 400-meter semifinal but will get another chance in next week's 4x400-meter relay.
Local athletes IN London
How they fared Sunday
• Track: Wildcat Georganne Moline won her heat in 54.31 in the prelims of the women's 400-meter hurdles to advance to today's semis.
• 2:45 a.m.: Shot put preliminaries, Julie Labonte, Canada; Jill Camarena-Williams, USA
• 11:15 a.m.: Shot put final, Labonte; Camarena-Williams
• 12:15 p.m.: 400 hurdles semifinals, Moline
• 2:15 p.m.: Basketball, Andre Iguodala, USA