In his return seven years later, he had what he called the worst 200 of his career.
His typical bravado replaced by bewilderment, Bolt said after his uninspiring victory at the Adidas Grand Prix on Saturday he can't figure out why he feels good in training but can't execute in races.
Hoping to break 20 seconds for the first time this year, Bolt ran what he deemed a "horrible" curve and acknowledged he was so discouraged he eased up before the finish. His time of 20.29 was more than a second off his world record of 19.19.
"I don't know what happened," Bolt said. "I really can't explain it. It was really bad. It was probably one of the worst turns I've ever had in my entire life."
Everything feels good physically, he added. He had been laughing and boasting at a news conference a day earlier, a sign his confidence is just fine. And he and his coach were pleased with his workout Friday.
The last thing Bolt was expecting was a showing like this at the New York stop on the Diamond League, track's elite series. The 200 did not count for Diamond League points, so Bolt wasn't facing a top field.
"I got out of the blocks and I just didn't go anywhere, pretty much," he said.
Canadian Christabel Nettey was victorious in the women's lung jump with a distance of 6.92 metres. The Brampton, Ont., native finished ahead of American Tianna Bartoletta (6.89) and Great Britain's Shara Proctor (6.72).
Bolt might now compete at the Jamaican championships later this month to try to get a sharper race in. Asked about his legacy, he lamented that if he and his coach don't solve this mystery soon, "my legacy's going to be in trouble."
With six Olympic gold medals, Bolt's legacy won't be tarnished much no matter what happens at the world championships in August and beyond. And he could comfort himself with the knowledge that he's looked beatable before only to regain his dominance in time for the biggest meets.
"I never try to worry — I just always keep working, because for some reason I always figure it out," he said.
It was here on Randall's Island, east of upper Manhattan, that Bolt first began burnishing his legacy. On May 31, 2008, he arrived at the meet as a 200 and 400 specialist considered too tall for the 100.
He had run an eye-popping time in the 100 in Jamaica a few weeks earlier, though, creating intrigue for his matchup with reigning world champion Tyson Gay. Bolt made Gay look as though he was jogging, finishing in 9.72 to set a world record.
Ever since then, Bolt has dominated the sport, later lowering his mark to 9.58. Gay, meanwhile, has struggled with injuries and served a doping suspension.
Gay ran the 100 again Saturday, rallying after a slow start to win in 10.12 into a headwind.
"Anytime you get a victory it builds your confidence," he said. "It doesn't matter what the time is."
Francena McCorory of the U.S. was one of the few top runners pleased with her time Saturday, winning the 400 in 49.86, the fastest in the world this year.
Olympic gold medallist and world-record holder David Rudisha of Kenya was happy with his performance in the 800 considering he had been limited in training by a leg injury. He won in 1:43.58, more than 2 1/2 seconds off his world record.
Former New York Giants running back David Wilson came up well short of his personal best in the triple jump in his first professional track and field meet. Wilson plans to compete again Sunday as he tries to qualify for the U.S. championships.
Wilson jumped 48 feet, 1 1/4 inches Saturday; he had posted a wind-aided 53-1 3/4 in college.
He last competed in 2011, when he finished sixth at the NCAA meet for Virginia Tech. After a serious neck injury forced Wilson to retire from the NFL at age 23 in August, the former first-round draft pick decided to give the triple jump another try.
"I wasn't proud the way I performed," he said. "But it was a good experience because I got my feet wet in a professional atmosphere."