RIO DE JANEIRO — This time, the devil wore red, white and blue, the bad guy being our guy.
In a battle so theatrical that the only thing missing was a pair of dueling light sabres, everything right about track and field Sunday collided with everything wrong about these Olympics.
Naturally, good triumphed, just like in those movies about superheroes, this one again as golden as the shoes that carried him to victory.
Usain Bolt, accepted to be as clean as he is fast, beat Justin Gatlin, who twice has been busted for PED use and now is running faster than ever despite also being older than ever.
“Somebody said I can be immortal,” Bolt explained after successfully defending his 100-meter Olympic championship and earning the first of what could be three golds in Rio. “Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal.”
Sign off? In less time than it takes most people to actually write their signature, Bolt blew past Gatlin in the race’s second half, winning in 9.81 seconds.
The only other person at these Olympics who will stride more magnificently over 100 or so meters is Gisele, and that was during the opening ceremony.
“The start wasn’t as good as I wanted, but after the semis I was a lot more confident,” Bolt said. “I knew I got a bad start, but I told myself, ‘Don’t panic, take your time.’ “
Take your time? While doing something that doesn’t last 10 seconds? That’s a level confidence beyond staggering.
Gatlin finished eight-hundredths of a second behind Bolt, though the gap between these two never has been larger.
When he entered the track before the race, Bolt was cheered wildly, the Jamaican smiling and holding open his arms, accepting the warmest of embraces.
Just moments earlier, many of those same spectators had coldly booed Gatlin like the villain he is today.
These Olympics arrived with a stench of PEDs equal to any of the foul odors that hang in the air all over this city. At one point, there was a chance the entire Russian team would be banned.
Then, an American swimmer named Lilly King became famous more for what she said than what she did, and all she did was win a gold medal.
King openly ripped the participation in Rio of Russia’s Yulia Efimova, who also has broken PED rules and been suspended.
And that quickly, the stench came alive and hijacked these Games, overwhelming everything in its path, including even the story of another potential-immortal, Michael Phelps.
The narrative now was about who did or didn’t belong in the Olympics, who was or wasn’t worthy, who should or shouldn’t be shamed.
Asked specifically about Gatlin’s presence, King said he, too, was as unwelcome as Efimova or any the Russians.
The sprinter snapped back, “I don’t even know who Lilly King is,” and remember these two are Olympic teammates.
Embarrassing is what the whole affair was, a country with united in its very name instead divided as everyone watched.
Then, in fewer than 10 seconds Sunday, Bolt set the record and the world straight again, his victory so certain that he even was able to thump his chest just before the finish line.
“I try to live in the moment,” Bolt said. “Brazil has been extremely great so far. The energy that they brought was just ridiculous. For me, I want to thank them for that.”
What came next was a victory lap celebration that approached running 15 minutes longer than Bolt did.
He blew kisses, posed for selfies and accepted an enormous stuffed animal, the fans chanting his name and pawing at him from the first few rows.
This is the same man who, upon arriving in Rio, conducted a news conference during which he shimmied amid a troupe of semi-naked samba dancers and consistently demanded more applause.
“I’m always going to bring my craziness to the sport,” Bolt said. “That’s what gets them (the crowd) going, the hype. They like to be part of the competition, not so much just watching it.”
Gatlin, meanwhile, remains remarkably fast for a man carrying so many suspicions. At age 34, he is convinced that he’s doing things correctly, a conclusion that, frankly, can be difficult to make.
His current coach, Dennis Mitchell, has been penalized for doping, as has his former coach, Trevor Graham. Then there’s the notion of a man his age running faster clean than he did a 12 years ago juiced.
Four of the five fastest men in history, including Gatlin, have served PED suspensions. The lone exception is Bolt.
Shortly after arriving in Rio, Bolt summed up his latest goal by saying, “I’m trying to become a legend.”
With seven Olympic gold medals so far, trying might not be the right word. But then, it’s a lot like Bolt’s races. You look up and, just that quickly, he’s already there.