Jamaica’s Annsert Whyte led the qualifiers with an impressive 48.37 heat win on a hot and sunny morning in Rio, with the temperatures in the mid-20s, but the big story was the elimination of Kenya’s world champion Nicholas Bett.
Despite his modest form this season, Bett was cruising to victory in lane eight of the fifth heat but started to over-stride coming into the final hurdle. His rhythm gone, he crashed through the barrier and jogged through the line.
It was a moot point as Bett was not going to qualify anyway but, shortly after crossing the line, insult was added to a minor injury when the judges disqualified him for pushing over the hurdle.
It was a bad morning for some other big names as well.
His predecessor as world champion, Trinidad and Tobago's 2013 gold medallist Jehue Gordon, was also eliminated. That was less of a surprise, though, as Gordon has been struggling for top fitness and had not run faster than 50 seconds in 2016 prior to arriving in Rio.
Olympic and 2013 world silver medallist Michael Tinsley, who could finish no higher than sixth in his heat in 50.18, was also eliminated as was Switzerland’s 2014 European champion Kariem Hussein.
Accentuating the positive, although the toast may be to absent friends ahead of the semi-finals, in an event which has no clear favourite at this stage, some of the likely medal contenders did perform well up to expectations.
Two-time world champion Kerron Clement glided around the track in the first heat and, secure in the knowledge that he was safely through as one of the three automatic qaulifiers, just eased his foot of the accelerator.
Morocco’s Abdelmalik Lahloulou took advantage of Clement’s casual approach to come through and take the heat win in a national record of 48.62 with Kenya’s 2015 World Championships finalist Boniface Tumuti second in 48.91 and Clement third in a relaxed 49.17.
Copello looks classy
The second heat saw Turkey’s European champion Yasmani Copello barely break sweat despite the rising temperatures and cruise home first in 49.52.
Karsten Warholm was once a talented combined eventer and won the 2013 world U18 octathlon title, but showed that he is now one of the rising talents of the 400m hurdles by improving his Norwegian record to 48.45 when winning heat three, despite tiring over the final 40 metres.
Behind Warholm, Puerto Rico’s two-time world silver medallist Javier Culson looked as though he was running well within himself when comfortably taking second place in a season’s best of 48.53.
Keisuke Nozawa is another athlete who has come to Rio in good form. The Japanese hurdler won heat four with a gun-to-tape effort in a personal best of 48.62, shaving 0.05 off his previous best, while Ireland’s Thomas Barr ran an astute race to take second in 48.93.
Two-time world U20 champion Jaheel Hyde, still only 19, also qualified for the semi-finals in the heat, finishing fourth in 49.24 to progress as one of the fastest six non-automatic qualifiers.
Heat five had all the drama with Whyte winning in a personal best of 48.37 ahead of Great Britain’s Jack Green, who clocked 48.98 in second place, while Bett came to grief.
However, Kenya could take some consolation from the sixth and final heat when Haron Koech sped to victory in a personal best of 48.77. The manner in which he achieved his win will have been a warning that while Bett may no longer be a factor in Rio, his compatriots could still be medal contenders.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF