With just the first two across the line earning a spot in Saturday's final, the three semis promised schoolyard-style scraps. All three delivered.
From the break, Aldrich Bailey Jr controlled much of the first heat, leaving the chase pack of three --Pole Jakub Krzewina, Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic and Jamaican Javon Francis -- to tussle for position behind him. Francis was Bailey's closest pursuer down the final backstraight, until Santos, who was on the receiving end of much of the shoving in the early going, moved past Krzewina midway through the final bend.
Bailey carried the lead to the homestretch but Santos, the 2012 Olympic champion, was't finished. With Francis's early chase taking a toll, he began to fade, making room for Santos to catch and overtake Bailey over the final five metre. Santos clocked 46.31, just 0.02 ahead of the US championships runner-up.
The second heat was much more straightforward -- and much faster. US champion Michael Cherry led after the break, with Spaniard Oscar Husillos tailing closely. Clearly the class of the field, the pair extended their lead with every stride until Husillos made his move heading into the final bend. Blasting by Cherry, he confidently powered through to the finish in 45.69, smashing his own national record by 0.17. Cherry crossed the line 45.73. Rafel Omelko was third in 46.39, the second Pole in as many races to finish just outside the top two.
The third was the closest with just 0.05 separating the top three. Deon Lendore of Trinidad and Tobago took possession of the lead at the bell, with Slovenia's Luka Janezic shadowing him and Pavel Maslak, the two-time defending champion, another step behind. Down the back stretch, Maslak battled past the hulking Slovenian, building a two-metre gap and now shadowing Lendore as the trio approached the final straight. The decision went down to the proverbial wire, with Maslak eventually sneaking by by a scant 0.01 in 46.32 with Janezic, who made up most of the gap on the outside, coming up just short in 46.37.
Maslak was forced to work hard in both of Friday's rounds, but also dispelled any doubts that he didn't arrive in Birmingham well-prepared to become the event's first three-time winner.
Bob Ramsak for the IAAF