usain_bolt3_web.jpgLONDON (AP) — 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 night, 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 4×100 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.”

Ever the entertainer, the Jamaican kept right on running past the finish for a victory lap that included high-fives with front-row fans, a pause to kneel down and kiss the track and even a somersault. Thousands in the capacity crowd of about 80,000 chanted the champion's name: “Usain! Usain! Usain!”

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.

At the last Olympics, Bolt announced his arrival on the global stage by winning the 100 with a then-record 9.69 seconds, even though he slowed down to celebrate by pounding his chest over the last 20 meters. That mark lasted only until the 2009 world championships, when he lowered the mark to 9.58.

Bolt, who turns 26 this month, delivered in London the sort of scene he made so commonplace in Beijing: a look-at-me! series of photo ops, including dance moves fit for a nightclub and what he calls his “To the World” pose, when he leans back and points to the sky.

He hugged Blake, the guy Bolt nicknamed “The Beast” because of his intensity in practices.

Bolt is not the most serious fellow and he isn't too proud to admit he never has put much emphasis on fitness. In 2008, he explained that his success was fueled by chicken nuggets from a fast-food restaurant in the Olympic village. This time around, he noted that he noshed Sunday on a sandwich wrap from the same chain.

“It was chicken with vegetables, so it was healthy,” Bolt said with perfect deadpan delivery. “Don't judge me.”

The only judgments now are going to be about where Bolt stands in the pantheon of sprinters and Olympians.

They already were set to party in Jamaica to mark 50 years since it became independent from Britain.

On Aug. 5, 1962, the Union Jack was lowered for the final time at Kingston's National Stadium. Talk about perfect bookends: On Monday,  Aug. 6, 2012, the 50th

anniversary of the island's independence, the Jamaican flag was raised in London's Olympic Stadium for Bolt's medal ceremony.

“It's an honor. I said after the trials I wanted to give Jamaica a great birthday present,” Bolt said, “and this is a good start.”

Photo: Usain Bolt