ROME (AP) — Usain Bolt was merely good enough to win his first race in nine months.
For now, that’ll do for fastest man in the world.
Bolt needed a late kick to capture the 100 meters in 9.91 seconds, edging former world record-holder Asafa Powell at the Golden Gala on Thursday.
Powell was timed in 9.93 and European champion Christophe Lemaitre finished third in 10.00.
As usual, Bolt got off to a slow start, but unlike his most recent races the world record-holder was behind until pulling in front with his very last strides.
“I was nervous as it was my first race of the season and I didn’t think it went well and the nerves got to me,” Bolt said. “In fact it was a totally bad race and I’m just pleased I won.”
Bolt had not competed since he was beaten by Tyson Gay in Stockholm last August, ending the Jamaican’s two-year unbeaten streak. The triple Olympic and world champion then cut short his season because of back and Achilles’ tendon problems.
“I don’t think I should judge today,” Bolt said. “Today was just to get the cobwebs out. But I got through the race injury free and now I’m just looking forward to the next race.”
Since Powell set a world record of 9.74 seconds in Rieti, Italy, in 2007, Bolt has broken the mark three times, the last at 9.58 at the 2009 world championships in Berlin.
Yet another Jamaican, Steve Mullings, still holds this year’s best time — 9.89 set in Clermont, Florida, five days ago.
Bolt has now beaten Powell in nine of their 10 meetings, with Powell’s only win coming in Stockholm in 2008.
“I tired toward the end and if I had kept it up I would have been the winner tonight,” Powell said. “I think I was too worried by Usain at the end of the race. I always said this was my race to win and I gave it away. I knew I could have won and I needed to stay focused and relaxed. I’m more confident now as I know I could have won.”
Bolt added more muscle to his 6-foot-5 frame over the offseason to improve his starts, but he still had a much slower reaction time than Powell — 0.174 vs. 0.133, with Lemaitre at 0.129.
The wind registered plus 0.06.
“This was enormous,” said Lemaitre, whose personal best is 9.97. “I was in contact with Bolt and Powell until 60-70 meters.”
In other events, American standout Allyson Felix improved her season-best time in the 400 while world champion Sanya Richards-Ross struggled to a fifth-place finish.
Felix is the three-time defending world champion in the 200 but has shown she could be just as big a threat in the 400 at the worlds in Daegu, South Korea, in August.
Felix had a time of 49.81 seconds to improve on the 50.33 she ran at this year’s opening Diamond League meet in Doha, Qatar, this month.
Amantle Montsho of Botswana was the runner-up in 50.47 and Francena McCorory of the United States finished third in 50.70.
Richards-Ross, who missed most of last year with a quadriceps injury, clocked 50.98.