Georganne Moline of the United States competes in the Women's 400m Hurdles Round 1 Heats on Day 9 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 5 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Russian champion Natalya Antyukh, who already has an Olympic bronze medal from Athens 2004 when she was still a specialist of the one-lap flat race, burst out of the blocks running a super-fast 300 metres and entering the home straight sole in the lead.
She closed down in 53.90, the fastest time of the 5 first-round heats but Kaliese Spencer who was fourth at the last two IAAF World Championships, also made an impression closing the gap in the final stages to improve her season’s best time to 54.02.
"I’m more than happy, the Olympic Games for me start now," she commented. "I feel confident, I have a real chance to fight. But my opponents are not sleeping. The fight will be very tough particularly against Demus and Hejnova."
With the top four from each race advancing it meant that Muizat Ajoke Odumosu and Anna Jesien were also guaranteed a lane in one of three semi-finals tomorrow but they will both need to improve on their 54.93 and 55.44 respectively if they want to have a chance to make it to the final here in London.
In the first heat, Czech record holder Zuzana Hejnova clocked an extremely comfortable season’s best 53.96, almost a second ahead of runner-up T’Erea Brown of the USA who clocked a personal best time 54.72.
Hejnova who had a fantastic confidence boost win at the Herculis Diamond League meeting just a fortnight ago where she beat several gold medal potential winners, is now looking to improve on her seventh place finish from the Beijing Olympic Games four years ago.
"I didn’t expect to run so fast," she said. "I did not want to run so fast, but it was so easy and I’m not even tired. I am surprised by this very fast time for the first round."
The other two automatic qualifiers from that heat included Great Britain’s Eilidh Child and Sarah-Lynn Wells of Canada.
The remaining three heats weren’t as fast but then again there was no need to be in this first round.
World champion Lashinda Demus is an experienced runner and she proved it when she controlled her race to win in 54.60 from Ukraine’s Hanna Titimets and Vera Barbosa whose 55.22 for third was a new Portuguese record. Russia’s number three Elena Churakova also made it through.
There was another heat win for the USA with Georganne Moline running what looked to be a very easy personal best 54.31 unchallenged.
The next to cross the line was Jamaica’s Nickiesha Wilson at 55.53 with European champion Irina Davydova just a couple of hundredths adrift as Belgium’s Elodie Ouedraogo grabbed the fourth and final automatic qualifier.
The final heat was the one with the most crowd support and how could one blame them for saving their best cheer for Perri Shakes-Drayton, the European bronze medallist and third fastest in the world this year.
It was defending champion Melaine Walker who draw attention though as she set off to one of her traditional tremendous starts but Shakes-Drayton just bode her time well and progressively closed the gap under the roar of a capacity crowd 80,000 spectators.
She took the heat win at 54.62 with Walker closing in 54.78 only just holding off fast finishing Hanna Yaroshchuk of Ukraine in 54.81.
Aware of the vital importance of a good lane draw in each race, Shakes-Drayton commented: "You can’t hold back, you have to stay relaxed. I did want to win."
The one casualty of this first round was 2010 European silver medallist and the fifth fastest this year, Vania Stambolova who didn’t make it past the first obstacle, the Bulgarian describing her fall as "an amateur mistake." She sped off the track concluding: "I’m very angry."
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF
1999 Galfione on track