They played the theme to Star Wars at the Stadio Olimpico but there was nothing galactic about Usain Bolt's performance as he was surprisingly defeated by Justin Gatlin in the 100m at Rome's Golden Gala meeting.
It was only his fifth loss over the distance.
Before the race it seemed business as usual: Bolt smiled at the TV cameras, jabbed his fingers skyward and shushed the crowd when their lingering cheers tested the starter's patience. His reaction out of the blocks was also fantastic.
But in the mid-section of the race, when his legs usually start to drive and purr, they betrayed him. Then, as Gatlin moved half a metre ahead, the Jamaican's facial features – normally so relaxed, as if playing a recorder in a school assembly – did so too.
Despite Bolt's best efforts to close the gap he was unable to do enough: Gatlin won by a vest's width in 9.94sec, with Bolt second in 9.95.
Bolt made light of his loss, saying: "The fact I got a perfect start threw me off. After five steps in I stumbled. I have to do more strength work, I guess. My legs did not feel the energy.
"At 50 metres I had some problems, but the rest of my race was not bad. You learn more from losing. You can't win every race in your career. The season is still very early. I am not surprised. I have time – I'm not worried."
He is probably right not to be overly concerned. Last July, he was beaten by Yohan Blake in the 100m and 200m in the Jamaican trials – but when it mattered most, at London 2012, he won three gold medals. There is further mitigation: this was only Bolt's second race of the season – his first, a 100m in the Cayman Islands in May, was run in 10.09 – and he had a minor hamstring injury earlier in the year. "At least I got under 10 seconds this time," he joked. He later tweeted: "believe me when I say #iwillbeback".
Bolt, whose other defeats in the 100m came at the world championships in Daegu in 2011 – when he was disqualified for a false start – and in Stockholm in 2010 and 2008, also met an opponent who was battle-hardened and race-fit. Gatlin, the 100m Olympic bronze medallist in 2012, had won in Doha and also ran a wind-assisted 9.88 sec in Eugene last week.
"It feels good," he said. "But you can never count out Usain."
There was another major surprise in the women's 200m as the Olympic champion Allyson Felix was beaten by Murielle Ahouré of Ivory Coast, who broke her country's national record in winning in 22.36. Felix, who was several metres back in 22.64, was sanguine. "It is what I expected," she said. "I took more time off in the winter. It's what happens further down the season that counts."
There were several encouraging performances from the British contingent in Rome, and particularly from Dai Greene, who finished fifth in the 400m hurdles in his first race since London 2012.
The Welshman, who had surgery on a double hernia in March, had warned that he was "not expecting to set the world on fire". But it was only in the final 50m that his lungs started to burn and he dropped from third to fifth.
The American Johnny Dutch won in 48.31, but Greene – the 2011 world champion – was satisfied with his time of 48.81.
"I like racing the top guys as it gives you a really good indication of where you are," he said. "I had a fantastic winter and I'm not too concerned [with the hernia operation]. I was injury-free until that point."
Greene was so upset by finishing fourth at London 2012 he did not take part in any of the post-Games celebrations. But with just over two months to go before the world championships in Moscow, his mind and body are in a good place. "There is plenty of time to get the speed back," he said. "I'll take that."
Shara Proctor jumped 6.91m, just four centimetres off her personal best, to finish third in the women's long jump behind the American Brittney Reese. Hannah England, the 2011 world silver medallist, was also happy with a respectable fourth place in the women's 1500m – even if she was far adrift of the Olympic champion, Abeba Aregawi. "I am pretty pleased," said England. "It's my fourth fastest time ever."
But Phillips Idowu could manage only one legal triple jump – a season's best 16.44m – as he finished seventh behind the Olympic and world champion Christian Taylor, who won with a leap of 17.08m.
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