With his 20.79 win in the last of seven heats, reigning European indoor champion Marcin Urbas of Poland brought a modicum of respectability to the last appearance of the one-lap event.
Only seven of the 28 starters ran under 21 seconds, with the 27-year-old Pole nearly two-tenths of a second ahead of the rest of the field. US champion Jimmie Hackley, eased up behind urbaU to finish second in 20.95.
Joseph Batangdon of Cameroon, last year's silver medallist, won the first heat in 21.01, just ahead of Frenchman Jimmy Melfort (21.05).
Johan Wissman, who lowered the Swedish national record three times this winter, won head two in 20.96, with runner-up Paul Brizzel of Ireland (21.12) advancing as well. German indoor champion Tobias Unger won heat three in 20.98, with the second Frenchman, Under-23 national champion David Alerte (21.15), moving on as well.
Defending silver medallist Dominic Demeritte (20.99) from The Bahamas won heat four easily ahead of Briton Tim Abeyie (21.23), while last year's European Junior Champion, Sebastian Ernst of Germany, won the fifth in 20.91, ahead of world record holder Frank Fredericks' 20.98.
In heat six, Allyn Condon turned in an easy 21.06 win after running down American Coby Miller (21.32) in the homestretch.
The top two finishers from each heat, plus the next fastest, moved on to tonight's semi-finals.