Jamaica's Usain Bolt won the men's Olympic 100 metres in stunning style on Saturday, obliterating his own world record to win in 9.69 seconds.
He took the most coveted athletic crown with ease, soaring across the line metres clear of Trinidadian Richard Thompson in silver in 9.89 seconds. American Walter Dix won bronze in 9.91 but Bolt's blistering speed made his rivals look like sluggards.
The tall Jamaican raised his arms in triumph well before he crossed the line, thumped his chest and raced to salute supporters in the crowd who roared approval of a spectacular run.
His victory was beyond doubt within metres of the starting block and was over within a heartbeat. With 30 metres to go, Bolt glanced sideways and smiled in realisation that he would win the showcase race of the Olympics.
After scorching across the line, Bolt draped himself in a Jamaican flag, took off his golden running shoes and kissed them.
"I came here just to win, that was my aim," said Bolt. "I didn't even know I'd won the record till I did my victory lap."
His performance sealed a remarkable transition from 200 metre specialist to winner of the showcase race of the Olympics.
Bolt only began racing the 100m in the last year, putting his fellow sprinters in the shade with his performances. He first really showed his threat in May, when he set a world record time of 9.72 in New York.
Much of Jamaica was expected to have clustered around televisions to watch the extraordinary run and will have jumped for joy at the run by the man dubbed "Lightning" by the media.
Despite a tradition of producing world class sprinters, the Caribbean island had never before won a men's 100m gold at the Olympics.
Bolt can now set his sights on becoming the first man to win the 100m and 200m Olympic double since Carl Lewis in 1984. He will be full of confidence ahead of Wednesday's 200m final.
"I am just focusing on the 200 metres now," said Bolt. "I came here prepared and I'm going to do it."
The much-touted finals run-off between Bolt, former world record holder and fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell and world champion Tyson Gay never happened.
Gay, suffering from a hamstring injury, was too slow in his semi-final to qualify for the late evening race in front of a roaring 90,000-strong crowd in Beijing's magnificent Bird's Nest stadium.
Powell, 25, who has never won a global sprint title, finished in fifth place.
"I messed up big time," said Powell. "My legs died on me. Usain ran an awesome race. I'm very happy for him."
The day's other highlight was Michael Phelps equalling fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz's 1972 record of seven golds in one Olympics.
Trailing Serbia's Milorad Cavic in the 100 metres butterfly, Phelps lunged forward on his final stroke to touch a hundredth of a second ahead, the smallest margin possible.
The sporting phenomenon of the Beijing 2008 Games punched the air and screamed with joy as a capacity crowd in the Water Cube rose to hail him.
"It's pretty cool, that's all I can say," said Phelps, who thought halfway he had blown it. "I am in a sort of dream world."
On Sunday, Phelps can go one better than Spitz if he wins an eighth Beijing gold in the 100 medley relay.
"He can be called the best Olympian of all time," Spitz told America's NBC television, "not because he has more gold medals than anybody but in the way he's handled himself and in the way he's actually won under a tremendous amount of pressure."
Phelps now has 13 career golds, four more than anyone else in the 112-year history of the modern Games.
Phelps's success is down to total focus and the perfect swimmer's physique of large torso and huge reach on short legs. His arm span is 3 inches (7.6 cm) more than his 6ft 4 height.
MEDALS FOR OTHERS
The only surprise was that Phelps did not win in world record time, unlike his other six title-winning swims in Beijing.
The women, though, were in record breaking form.
Zimbabwe's Kirsty Coventry, who had won three silvers already in Beijing, finally struck gold in the women's 200 backstroke, bringing some rare cheer to her troubled homeland.
She shaved 0.85 seconds off the previous world best.
Britain's Rebecca Adlington also smashed a 19-year-old world record to take gold in the women's 800 freestyle.
She had won Britain's first Olympic women's swimming title in nearly half a century in the 400 freestyle on Monday.
But the Games have had some low moments as well.
Sweden's greco-roman wrestler Ara Abrahamian was stripped of his 84kg-category bronze medal after he dropped it in disgust to protest a refereeing decision. Olympic organisers also threw him out of the Games for his medal ceremony protest.
Australia picked up two gold rowing medals but lost to Britain in a thrilling sprint for the line in the men's four. Two more medals came Britain's way in the cycling.
China's gold medal charge paused on Saturday, with only one badminton gold coming the way of the host nation as attention switched to sports where the Asian nation does less well.
China came second to the United States in the medal table in Athens and would dearly like to win this year to showcase a sporting superpower status to mirror a growing economic clout.
China leads the gold medal table with 27 to the United States' 16.
(Reporting by Beijing Olympic bureau; Editing by Jon Bramley)