The world’s fastest man, on his first outing for six weeks following a pelvic injury, cruised through the heats at the Sainsbury’s Anniversary Games, recovering from a typically slow start to clock 9.87 seconds into a headwind.
The Jamaican stated on the eve of the meeting he had no worries about his shape a month out from the World Championships in Beijing and proved true to his word on the track where he won three Olympic gold medals at London 2012.
The torrential rain had eased a little by the time Bolt took to the track, but these were still far from ideal conditions in which to produce a performance which would have world number one Gatlin, the two-time drug cheat not invited because of his past, sitting up and taking notice.
Bolt, though, managed it and then some. He came into the meeting ranked 62nd in the world with a best of 10.12secs this year. He is now up to sixth, with Gatlin still leading the way with 9.74s.
Bolt’s run will have had athletics fans breathing a sigh of relief, with the prospect of Gatlin winning in Beijing one many within the sport will find hard to stomach.
Bolt’s form before now may have been indifferent, but he remains one of the biggest draws in sport and its ultimate showman.
A theatrical bow to the crowd as he was introduced to the crowd amid the biggest roar of the night was straight out of the West End.
The added tension provided by the false start by Richard Kilty – the Briton was clearly furious as he was led off the track – posed no problems.
Kilty’s compatriots Chijindu Ujah and James Dasaolu finished fourth and fifth respectively, both recording season’s bests of 10.04 and 10.12, to make the final.
There was also a huge step forward for Jessica Ennis-Hill, who shattered her season’s best by clocking 12.79 to finish fifth in a world-class 100m hurdles.
The Olympic heptathlon champion, on her first appearance at the Olympic Stadium since the birth of her son Reggie last summer, will decide whether to go to the World Championships based on her performances this weekend. She has said she wants to assess her speed before making a final call, but on this evidence it is back.
The Sheffield athlete, who is back in action today in the long jump and the 200m, finished one place behind team-mate Tiffany Porter, who clocked 12.67.
Ennis-Hill said: ``I’m made up with that, so pleased to have run that time and to have done it here in this stadium, in the right part of the year, really happy. To be honest I was thinking I would probably run 13.1 or 13.0 and that would be have been really disappointing, so to have not just dipped under with a 12.90, to have run 12.79 is brilliant.
“It’s incredible to be back, I absolutely love this stadium and the memories for me are so amazing.”
Britain’s 20-year-old Anguilla-born sprinter Zharnel Hughes, a member of Bolt’s training group in Jamaica, clocked an impressive personal best to win the 200m in 20.05.
He said: “I came out here to do something spectacular and I’m happy that the crowd is happy.” Elsewhere, Christine Ohuruogu, who will be the defending champion in Beijing, finished fourth in the 400m in 51.00.
The pole vault was postponed until today because of the awful conditions, with French Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie addressing the crowd to tell them it was “really dangerous” to jump.