Bolt, Asafa lead Jamaica’s hunt for men’s 100m title but Gatlin looms large
An amazing fireworks show and some colourful synchronising announced the start of the IAAF World Championships in Beijing, China, yesterday, but the real pyrotechnics will be unleashed today in what is expected to be a scorching men's 100m final.
Between strides in yesterday's action, Usain Bolt - hardly sweating, glanced to his left, then to his right, where a busy-bodied Mike Rodgers was huffing and puffing but was never a test in their men's 100m heat.
The time, 9.96 seconds, flashed on the clock as the eight-time world champion walked across the line to excited chatter inside Beijing's Bird's Nest, as the IAAF World Championships wasted little time in whetting the appetite.
The sprint king is ready.
So is his rival Justin Gatlin - the divisive American, determined to hand Bolt his first beating to the line at a major international championships.
Gatlin, the most in-form sprinter over the past two seasons, was just as impressive - if not even more, as he looked to his left and probably read the numbers on each competitor's bib as he bounced comfortably to a 9.83 win in his heat, helped a bit by a +2.1 wind. It was Gatlin's 30th consecutive win and 22nd in the 100m.
Gatlin is ready.
Powell and Gay
Add the smooth-striding former 100m world record holder Asafa Powell, who took his heat in a time of 9.95; to the mix; Frenchman Jimmie Vicaut, who looks like he can break his own 9.86 European record after easing to 9.92; Tyson Gay (USA), who is said to be carrying an injury but was still comfortable in 10.11 as he won his heat; plus the youngsters Trayvon Bromell (USA), 9.91, and Andre De Grasse (Canada), 9.99, today's semi-finals, which get under way at 6:10 a.m. (Jamaica time) and the final set for 8:15 a.m. have all the makings of a Hollywood drama special.
Bolt, who admitted in a press conference last week that he had grown frustrated with the talks about whether or not he was still the best, said he was eager to show that he's still the top sprinter on the planet and prove his doubters wrong.
"That's the aim coming here, to prove that I am the champion and I'm the best, so that's my aim and my focus and I'm going to get it done!" said the 100m and 200m world record holder.
"It's been a long time. I was happy to get out there, I am happy with everything that's going on and it was a pretty easy run, there were no worries," Bolt continued. "I didn't come out here to try and run fast or to prove anything, I was just focusing on getting through the rounds, getting my start right and trying to execute right, that's what I'm focusing on right now, my technique."
Bolt is said to be in vintage shape and it's clear that Gatlin has been running like a man possessed for months, but what will it take to win again in Beijing?
"Everybody is running pretty fast, so I think you can definitely say that the track is a quick one. But a lot of times it's easy to run fast when there isn't any pressure but when that pressure is applied a lot of guys tighten up and start to lose their form, but we will see what happens," said Bolt.
Meanwhile, Gatlin said he is also looking forward to today's final, noting that he is simply enjoying the moment and looking to have fun.
"It's all about executing each phase of my race. I'm looking forward to it, it should be a very interesting race, it should be fun," said Gatlin, whose introduction was met with a mixture of boos and applause.
Many questions will be answered today but one thing is already certain; with talks of Bolt's 9.58 world record under threat, those are going to be answered very quickly.