Usain Bolt preserved his title as the world’s fastest man, as he overcame his greatest challenge yet to win 100 meters gold at the World Athletics Championships, leaving Justin Gatlin to claim silver.

Bolt, struggling for form and sluggish in his semifinal, came through to win in a season's best time of 9.79 seconds, dipping just one hundredth of a second ahead of Gatlin, who had been unbeaten in 28 races coming into the final. Gatlin’s fellow American Trayvon Bromell and Canadian Andre de Grasse, who are both 20 years old, finished in a dead heat for third in a time of 9.92 to share bronze. 

Billed as a battle of good versus evil, Bolt was fighting the challenge of Gatlin not just to preserve his sprinting dominance, but, to many, to save the soul of the sport. Gatlin has been shrouded in controversy since coming back from a four-year doping ban handed down in 2006, while Bolt, long track and field’s biggest star, has never failed a doping test. But it was Gatlin, having gotten back to and then surpassed his previous best since returning to the sport, who came into the last big event before next year’s Olympics in Rio in the better form. While 33-year-old Gatlin had set the fastest time in the world this year and a personal best with a 9.76, Jamaican Bolt has been hampered by injuries and recorded subpar performances.

That continued in the Chinese capital to set Gatlin up as a clear favorite. In the semifinals, Gatlin eased to the fastest time in 9.77, while Bolt stumbled out of the blocks and almost fell as he struggled to win the first semi in a time of 9.96. But back at the same Bird’s Nest Stadium where he became a global star when winning triple Olympic gold in 2008, Bolt continued his healthy habit of delivering his best when it mattered most.

There was tension evident in a lack of Bolt’s usual playfulness on the blocks, but he got a much better start than in his semifinal and came though, timing his lean forward to perfection to edge out Gatlin by the finest of margins. The win gives him his ninth World Championships gold medal and sees him become just the third man in history to win three 100-meter golds at the biennial event, matching the achievement of Carl Lewis and Maurice Greene.

Outside of the medals, Mike Rodgers came in fifth, ahead of fellow American and former 100m world champion Tyson Gay and former world record holder Asafa Powell. France’s Jimmy Vicaut and China’s Bingtian Su rounded out the finishers.