RIO DE JANEIRO: Usain Bolt took another step in his quest for an unprecedented sprint “triple triple” when he safely negotiated the first round of the 200m on Tuesday.
Bolt won a third successive 100m title on Sunday to set up his bid to repeat his haul of three gold medals in the 100, 200 and 4x100m relay at both the Beijing and London Olympics in 2008 and 2012 respectively.
Bolt, who is desperate to better his 2009 world record best of 19.19sec, clocked 20.28sec in winning his first round heat, easing up a full 50 metres from the line.
“I hate morning heats so I’m happy to get this out of the way,” said Bolt.
“I was nervous because the 200m is my favourite event. I didn’t want to go out. It’s a good start and I’m happy.”
Bolt said he was over his exertions in the blue riband 100m.
“I’ve recovered from the 100m,” he insisted. “I’m tired now, but happy to be through. I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s semi-finals.”
American Justin Gatlin, who won silver behind Bolt in the 100m, also looked comfortable as he won his heat in 20.42sec.
Unlike the frosty reception afforded him by a jeering Olympic Stadium crowd before the 100m heats and final, Gatlin was actually cheered in bright sunny conditions. He briefly put his hands together, as if in thanks.
“It felt good, it felt easy,” said Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100m champion who has served two doping bans.
“The coach said ‘just go out there run the turn and make sure you get the lead going into the straight and keep on to it’.”
– Alpha male syndrome –
Gatlin said he had also recovered from Sunday’s 100m final.
“You’ve just got to take that 100m hat off, put the 200m hat on and get ready for the next round,” he said.
“There is no alpha male syndrome among American athletes. We all want to come together like a brotherhood.”
Gatlin’s compatriot LaShawn Merritt, who won bronze in his specialist event, the 400m, on Sunday, also qualified after winning his heat in 20.15sec.
Merritt has the best time of the year with 19.74sec, set at the US Olympic trials in Eugene in July.
Bolt’s season fastest is 19.89sec, set in London last month, but few would bet on the Jamaican not defending his 200m title for a third successive time.
Bolt’s Jamaican team-mates Nickel Ashmeade and Yohan Blake also qualified, Canada’s Andre de Grasse setting the fastest time of the heats with 10.07sec.
“This is my preferred event to be honest,” said Blake, the 2012 silver medallist who missed most of the 2013 and 2014 seasons with a hamstring injury.
“I am lucky to be here because sometimes during the dark days I didn’t think I’d ever make it back to the Olympics.
“I owe a lot of that to my friends keeping my morale up.”