RIO DE JANEIRO -- Slow out of the blocks? Doesn't matter if you're Usain Bolt.
The Jamaican caught Justin Gatlin, who had a strong start and led for half the race, to win his record third straight men's 100-meter final Sunday night and seventh Olympic gold.
Bolt, who gave himself a fist bump on the chest just before crossing the line, finished in 9.81. He was followed by Gatlin (9.89) and Canada's Andre De Grasse (9.91).
"It was brilliant,'' Bolt said. "I didn't go so fast, but I'm so happy I won. I told you guys I was going to do it."
This is the third time Gatlin has finished second to Bolt. The previous two times were at the 2013 and 2015 world championships.
The 29-year-old Bolt, whose reaction time of 0.155 was second slowest of the eight finalists, is the second-oldest 100 champion in Olympic history. Linford Christie was 32 in 1992.
The 6-foot-5 sprinter overcame his typically slow unfurling from the blocks; he was second-to-last after the break.
"I just said, 'Take your time and chip away,''' Bolt said.
Churning his legs to gradually build up speed, Bolt eventually caught Gatlin with about 40 meters left and took it to warp speed. The rest was a matter of how hard he wanted to run to the line.
Gatlin pursued him gamely, the way he has for years. He said the short turnaround between the semifinal and final sapped his strength.
"Once we got back to the second call, we really only had 30 minutes to get ready for the finals," Gatlin said.
Gatlin finished with silver to go with his 2004 gold and 2012 bronze and, at 34, became the oldest man to win a medal in a non-relay sprint.
While Bolt was celebrating with anyone he could find, Gatlin was parading the American flag around the track virtually alone.
The boos from the Brazilian crowd were the latest ugly chapter in Gatlin's saga. He has been caught twice for doping. His last ban ended in 2010.
"We all have respect for each other," the American sprinter said of his fellow competitors. "I'd like to see everyone have respect in the audience as well."
But fans in the stadium bought into the "Good vs. Evil" storyline that has been pitched by the media for all these years, and they let the American have it.
"That's the first time I've gone into a stadium and they've started to boo," Bolt said. "It surprised me."
A split-second after he crossed, Bolt raised the index finger, and then the real party began.
Bolt unlaced his now-famous gold spikes and took selfies with fans. He turned his yellow hat backward, kneeled down and gave the crowd what it really wanted -- that famous, arching, "To the World'' pose that he debuted eight years ago in Beijing.
Chants of "Bolt, Bolt, Bolt'' rang out from the near-capacity stadium. The show lived up to its billing.
"A true, true warrior of the sport,'' said Yohan Blake, Bolt's Jamaican teammate who used to be his main rival. "To come back ... and win it three times, he is a one-of-a-kind sprinter. He really is.''
Bolt came into the Olympics having not run a 100 since June 30, when he pulled out of the Jamaican national championships with a bad left hamstring.
The rehab began immediately, and on a muggy Sunday night in Rio, the shining star of track and field showed no signs of distress.
And the jovial Jamaican is not done. Qualifying for the men's 200, his favorite race, starts Tuesday, with the 4x100 relay on Friday.
He turns 30 the day of the closing ceremony and has insisted his Olympic days are over.
"Somebody said I can become immortal," Bolt said. "Two more medals to go and I can sign off. Immortal."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.