A high-class opening round of the 200m, which served up five national records, and a clutch of personal best and season best times, whetted the appetite for Wednesday’s semi-finals, which look likes making compelling viewing.
In heat one, 2009 world 200m silver medallist Alonso Edward amply demonstrated the quality of what was needed to advance to the semi-finals. The Panamanian stormed to victory in 20.19, winning by 0.08 from Great Britain’s Danny Talbot, who equalled his best to take the second and final qualification spot.
A loaded second heat proved no respecter of reputations as Spain’s Bruno Hortelano lowered his own national record by 0.06 to win in 20.12. The European champion finished like an express train to pip Jamaica’s Yohan Blake, the second fastest 200m sprinter in history, by 0.01.
Such was the quality of the heat that world number three, USA’s Ameer Webb, who clocked 20.31 for third, only just scraped into the semi-finals on time and there will be no place in the semi-finals for world bronze medallist Anaso Jobodwana of South Africa, who in his first outing of an injury-cursed season recorded 20.53 for fourth place.
Bahrain has had a successful first four days of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games athletics programme and that streak was maintained by Salem Eid Yaqoob as he carved 0.15 from his previous best to set a national record of 20.19 to win heat three.
Just 0.04 adrift in second was Turkey’s European silver medallist Ramil Guliyev, who recorded a season’s best of 20.23. Canada’s Aaron Brown registered the same time and booked a spot in the semi-finals on time.
Mexican record-holder Jose Carlos Herrara blasted to a heat four victory in 20.29, some 0.15 clear of Roberto Skyers of Cuba. The fourth fastest 200m runner in the world year, Miguel Francis of Antigua and Barbuda, was a non-starter.
Olympic 100m silver medallist Justin Gatlin began his half-lap quest without drama as he crossed the finish line in cruise control in a time of 20.42.
The superior finish of Matteo Galvan crucially earned the Italian second place – and safe passage into the semi-finals – in a photo-finish from Ramon Gittens of Barbados. Both were credited with 20.58 but Gittens, the world indoor 60m bronze medallist, was eliminated.
The big two in heat six, Nickel Ashmeade and Adam Gemili, proved far too good for the opposition and comfortably got the two automatic spots.
Ashmeade, the vastly experienced Jamaican and three-time world 200m finalist, registered 20.15 to finish 0.05 clear of Gemili, Great Britain’s 2014 European champion.
Brenes and Merritt move down distance
Nery Brenes, the 2012 world indoor 400m champion, showed his ability over half that distance by romping to an impressive heat seven win in a Costa Rican record of 20.20.
Brenes managed to hack 0.13 from his previous best to finish 0.09 clear of European 100m champion Churandy Martina of the Netherlands.
As a further measure of the sheer quality and depth of the competition, Brendon Rodney of Canada finished third in a far-from-shabby 20.34 but this was not sufficient to advance.
Switching down in distance, Olympic 400m bronze medallist LaShawn Merritt also showed he can be a genuine contender in the 200m with a heat eight win in 20.15. The US sprinter, who has made a major breakthrough this year over what his compatriots call the furlong, and who is currently the world leader following his stunning 19.74 clocking at the US Championships, proved 0.13 superior to France’s 2010 European champion Christophe Lemaitre, who also advanced automatically.
Usain Bolt cantered to heat nine victory in 20.29 and, almost inevitably, got the biggest cheer of the morning.
The two-time defending Olympic champion, who has vowed to target his world record time of 19.19 in Rio, completely eased back down the home straight to virtually jog to what for him was a routine win.
Nigeria’s Ejowvokoghene Oduduru wiped 0.11 from his lifetime best to grab the second spot in 20.34 and advance.
Olympic 100m bronze medallist Andre De Grasse looks like being a major factor in this event as well after the Canadian produced the fastest time of the morning, and the fastest time ever in an Olympic Games first round, with an eye-catching heat ten win in 20.09.
Great Britain’s sub-20 second performer Nethaneel Mitchell-Blake shaded second spot by 0.03 in 20.24 while Trinidad and Tobago’s Rondel Sorrillo missed out an automatic qualification place in third place, but progressed on time to the semi-finals.
Steve Landells for the IAAF