GLASGOW (Reuters) - Six-times Olympic champion Usain Bolt steered Jamaica to a comfortable victory in their 4x100 metres relay heat in front of an expectant crowd at the Commonwealth Games on Friday.
The towering sprinter, an eight-times world champion, ran the final leg as Jamaica easily qualified for Saturday’s final in a time of 38.99 seconds ahead of Nigeria.
Legions of fans flooded to Hampden Park to catch a glimpse of Bolt, the 100 and 200 metres world record holder, and his mere presence lit up a Games that has been lacking in genuine world-class athletes in many of the track events.
“I was looking forward to coming out here and showing the people that I’m here to have fun, and I’m here to compete and give my best,” Bolt told reporters after making his first ever Commonwealth Games appearance.
“I felt sluggish because it was my first race of the season and I knew it was going to take me time to get into my rhythm, but otherwise it felt okay.
“I’m just happy to be part of the relay team and be at the Commonwealth Games. For me it’s always important coming out here and competing with my team, (important to) feel the vibes, enjoy, laugh, have fun, and just to be one."
With the likes of double Olympic champion Mo Farah and Jamaican sprinter Yohan Blake, who won a relay gold and two silvers at the London 2012 Olympics, having to pull out injured, the quality of competition has been called into question.
The 27-year-old Bolt was the answer, though, having promised to run in the relay heats to ensure the Scottish fans could see him in action even if his team did not reach the final.
His appearance at the Games was in danger of turning sour earlier in the week when The Times newspaper ran an interview with Bolt in which he was quoted criticising the Games.
The sprinter denied he had made the comments and there were no signs of any ill feeling towards the Jamaican as he posed and postured before an adoring crowd, providing the moment the Games, and its organisers, had been waiting for.
Bolt anchored the Jamaica team of Kimmari Roach, Julian Forte and Nickel Ashmeade, who won 100 bronze in the sprint on Monday, to an easy victory.
“It was wonderful. It felt like I was in the London 2012 Olympic Games and I really appreciate it,” Bolt said. “I love competing in front of a crowd which is really loud.”
“I know my true fans know I’d never say something like that (criticise a country). I always go to every country with an open mind to see what they represent, what it’s all about and just enjoy the culture. The people have been wonderful to me.”
So what does the Jamaican make of the Scottish culture?
“For me, it’s different,” he laughed. “Everybody was trying to get me to wear a kilt. But it's been fun. It’s been wonderful.”
Bolt has chosen to compete in just the relay event at Glasgow 2014 and goes in search of his first Commonwealth medal to add to his burgeoning collection in the final.
“I need a gold, so it’s very important for me,” he said.
Earlier, another Olympic champion, Australian Sally Pearson, stormed to victory in the defence of her 100 hurdles title in a time of 12.67 seconds, ahead of England’s Tiffany Porter and Canadian Angela Whyte.
Kenya secured a 1-2-3 in the men’s 3000 steeplechase with Jonathan Ndiku winning in a Games record time of eight minutes 10.44 seconds ahead of Jairus Birech and Ezekiel Kemboi Cheboi.
Their compatriot Eunice Sum followed with another gold by romping to victory in the women’s 800 final.
A thrilling finish to the men’s 10,000 saw Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro narrowly retain the title he won in Delhi, while Steven Lewis won pole vault gold for England, adding to the silver he claimed in Delhi and the bronze he won in Melbourne in 2006.
Australia’s Eleanor Patterson won the women's high jump gold while her compatriot Dani Samuels took the women's discus title.
(Reporting by Sam Holden; Editing by Ken Ferris)