Much of the preevent talk had focused on the US quartet but it was a great champion of a few years ago who caught the eye. Two-time former world champion Felix Sanchez has suffered a couple of injury-ravaged seasons and had almost become the forgotten man of the event, but the Dominican athlete gave a little nudge to his rivals, suggesting that he could still have a big role to play at the sharp end with an impressive heat five victory in a season’s best of 48.70.
Sanchez produced a trademark run and held off a late surge from the defending champion Bershawn Jackson, who worked hard down the home straight to ensure qualification in 48.87 after the American ran a conservative first half of the race.
The delighted Sanchez said: “I m back, totally healthy. I was ready already early in the season, but it was in my head. I had a good technical race, the fastest time. I beat Bershawn so that is a big confidence boost. I always knew that when healthy I would be hard to beat.”
Olympic bronze medallist Naman Keita has suffered an erratic year but the Olympic bronze medallist enjoyed a positive outing to triumph in heat one. The high-stepping French athlete was always in control and hit 300m five metres clear of the field. He maintained his advantage down the home stretch and stopped the clock in 49.45. But world No6 LJ van Zyl of South Africa struggled to impose himself on the race and made a surprise first round exit. The South African, who won at the Golden League meeting in Rome in July, finished down in fifth in 49.71.
World No1 James Carter cruised to an impressive 49.52 heat victory and laid down a marker to his rivals he intends to go one better than the silver medal he won in Helsinki two years ago. Clearly running within himself the heavily-tattooed American finished comfortably ahead of Panamanian Bayano Kamani, who finished strongly in 49.67.
Heat three went to Olympic silver medallist Danny McFarlane. The Jamaican benefited from an aggressive first half of the race and won in 48.91. By contrast American Kerron Clement chose to start off steadily and was forced to work a little harder than he would have wanted in the latter stages to secure second in 49.07.
Japanese hopeful Dai Tamesue, a two-time world bronze medallist, faded down the home straight and finished sixth in 49.67, while new Canadian find Adam Kunkel maintained the momentum of a splendid breakthrough season by taking victory in heat four in 49.03 from Greek European champion Periklis Iakovakis (49.10).
The semi-finals are scheduled to start tomorrow (Sunday) at 21.45 local time.
Osaka 2007 News Team/sl