By his own reckoning, Usain Bolt has never had a harder victory.
He’s never had a more important one either.
The Jamaican super sprinter stormed home to edge out faltering American Justin Gatlin by one hundredth of a second in the 100m final at the world athletics championships on Sunday night.
The race had been billed as a sporting version of good versus evil with Gatlin, who has twice served bans after failing drugs tests, wearing the black hat.
Gatlin arrived at the Beijing world titles as the hottest of favourites, riding a 27-race winning streak.
After dominating the semis, his odds would have shortened even further.
But it was Bolt – who first proclaimed his greatness seven years ago with his triple-gold display at the Bird’s Nest at the 2008 Olympics – who kept his cool when it mattered most.
With Gatlin losing all form in the last 20 metres of the final, Bolt ran over the top of him to win in 9.79 seconds.
Gatlin was second in 9.80, three hundredths of a second slower than he ran in the semis a couple of hours earlier.
American Trayvon Bromell and Canadian Andre de Grasse tied for bronze on 9.92 after they could not be separated by a thousandth of a second.
Bolt has now won 10 of 11 individual global sprint titles since 2008, with the only blip occurring when he false-started in the 100m final at the 2011 world championships.
But for a sport mired in doping allegations, this victory meant even more than the others in the wider scheme of things.
“This was definitely my hardest race,” said the 29-year-old Bolt, who had battled a pelvic injury for much of the year.
“I’ve been through a lot this season and Justin’s been running great and showing up fast times.
“I’ve learned over the years that when Justin Gatlin comes to a championship, he always shows up.
“I knew that if I came here to win I’d have to run a great race.
“I’ve been struggling, so for me, for it to come together at the right time, it’s a great victory.”
But despite being portrayed as the great hope for a sport desperate to rid itself of the scourge of doping, Bolt declined to criticise Gatlin or any of the other three runners in Sunday’s final who had served doping bans.
“I leave it up to you guys,” he told the media.
“You have been saying Usain has to win to save the sport.
“You have to write about that.
“I came here to add to my legendary status and to win and to continue my championship ride.”
Gatlin was magnanimous in defeat.
“If I had to lose to anyone, it’d be to this man here,” he said of Bolt.
“I had a good stretch and showed my competitiveness.
“The last five metres were crucial here, I leaned too far forward coming to the finish line and caught myself off-balance.”
Gatlin refused to answer any questions about the greater significance of Bolt’s victory.
The American served his first doping ban in 2001 after testing positive to a banned substance in ADHD medication.
He returned to win gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics before again testing positive, this time to testosterone.
That offence would have normally have carried a life ban, but was cut to eight years, and then four, after Gatlin agreed to co-operate with anti-doping authorities.
Bolt became the first athlete to win nine golds at world championships, moving one clear of legendary US duo Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson.
He has also won six Olympic titles.