An hour and a half before the main event of the Golden Gala meeting here on the north side of the Italian capital last night Usain Bolt was paraded around the track on a motorised buggy, wearing an Italian football shirt. A fate-tempting lap of honour? Not likely.
The Lightning Bolt was less than electrifying on his first appearance of the season in Europe last Friday night, having to dig deep to get past Kim Collins to salvage victory in the 100m at the Golden Spike meeting at Ostrava in the Czech Republic. It was his slowest time outside of heats and semi-finals. Last night, when the gun fired, the world's fastest man did not get off to the best of starts but he made up for it big time.
Bolt trailed his Jamaican compatriot Asafa Powell by a quarter of a stride but he was level by halfway and he proceeded to surge decisively clear. From the worst of his 100m times six days previously, he catapulted to his best of times for three years.
Bolt crossed the line in 9.76sec, with Powell a distant second in 9.91sec and Christophe Lemaitre third in 10.04sec. It was the Jamaican phenomenon's joint-fastest time since he clocked his world record 9.58sec at the World Championships in Berlin in 2009. He also clocked 9.76sec in Brussels at the end of last season.
The 25-year-old has gone quicker on only three occasions, all of them world record performances. It was an emphatic statement two months out from the London Olympics. Anyone suspecting that Usain might have shot his bolt will have to think again. "I came out here not to prove anything to the world but to tell myself that I've still got it and I'm working my way from here," Bolt said. "I knew I could do it but since I've been in Europe I've not been sleeping regularly, so after Ostrava I decided that I would make sure I started going to bed early. I felt extremely well, extremely great tonight, so it's coming back."
If Bolt was feeling on top of the world, having also broken the meeting record (which stood at 9.77sec to Tyson Gay of the US), so was Robbie Grabarz. The former Cambridgeshire county hockey player showed a glimpse of world high jumping class in the indoor season with a clearance of 2.34m at Wuppertal in Germany. Last night the 24-year-old jumped 2.33m to seal victory over a world-class field with an outdoor personal best by 5cm – and also the highest jump in the world this summer.
"I've been jumping well in training but I've been trying to keep a lid on it, which is why I've started my season late," Grabarz said.
There was also a British victory in the long jump, Greg Rutherford maintaining his early-season form with 8.32m in the final round. Sadly, there was no Roman showdown between Bershawn "Batman" Jackson and Dai "The Riddler" Greene in the 400m hurdles. Greene, the world champion from Wales, withdrew from the field because of a virus and Jackson finished second to Javier Culson of Puerto Rico.
Perri Shakes-Drayton was a non-starter in the women's 400m hurdles because of a hamstring injury while there was cause for concern from the triple jump pit, where Yamile Aldama landed awkwardly on her second attempt. The 39-year-old world indoor champion finished fourth with 14.65m but was unable to take any further attempts. She will have a scan on a damaged shoulder back in London today.
There was an encouraging 64.73m throw for third place in the javelin for Goldie Sayers and in the final event of the night Dwain Chambers ran the opening leg for a far from full strength Great Britain 4x100m relay team, who finished second to Canada.