Rome - World record-holder Usain Bolt struggled to win his first race in nine months, clocking 9.91 seconds in the 100 meters to narrowly beat former record-holder Asafa Powell at the Golden Gala on Thursday.
Powell timed 9.93 and European champion Christophe Lemaitre crossed third in 10.00.
As usual, Bolt got out to a slow start but unlike in most of his recent races he was behind until pulling in front with his very last strides.
"I was nervous as it was my first race of the season and I didn't think it went well and the nerves got to me," Bolt said. "In fact it was a totally bad race and I'm just pleased I won."
Bolt had not competed since he was beaten by Tyson Gay in Stockholm last August, snapping the Jamaican's two-year unbeaten streak. The triple Olympic and world champion then ended his season because of back and Achilles' tendon problems.
Since Powell set a world record of 9.74 seconds in Rieti, Italy, in 2007, Bolt has broken the mark three times, the last being a 9.58 at the 2009 world championships in Berlin.
Bolt has now beaten Powell in nine of their 10 meetings, with Powell's only win coming in Stockholm in 2008.
"I tired toward the end and if I had kept it up I would have been the winner tonight. I think I was too worried by Usain at the end of the race," Powell said. "I always said this was my race to win and I gave it away. I knew I could have won and I needed to stay focused and relaxed. I'm more confident now as I know I could have won."