Usain Bolt in the 100m at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 (© Getty Images)
The Lightning Bolt was back on the track where he struck triple Olympic gold, but his start, even by his own sluggish standards, was frighteningly sedate.
Drawn in the sixth and final heat, Usain Bolt did not exactly have a disastrous reaction time (0.166) but after leaving his blocks proceeded to stand bolt upright, as it were.
There was a collective gasp from the sell-out crowd. At 30 metres, the fastest man in history was down in sixth place. Surely, in his farewell individual event, the great Jamaican could not fall at the first hurdle?
Indeed, he couldn’t. In mid race, the 11-time IAAF World Championships gold medallist started to get those long legs moving. In the last 30 metres, Bolt got to the front but in a fashion that made it look like he was jogging.
The 100m and 200m world record-holder crossed the line first in 10.07 – ahead of Britain’s James Dasaolu (10.13) and joint European record-holder Jimmy Vicaut of France (10.15) – then shook his head, clearly unimpressed with his efforts.
“That was very bad,” Bolt lamented. “I stumbled coming out of the blocks. I'm not very fond of these blocks. I think they are the worst ones I've ever experienced.
“I have to get this start together because I can't keep doing this. It's shaky. When I did my warm up, it pushed back. It is just not what I am used to. Not as sturdy or firm."
Note: the blocks being used at the IAAF World Championships London 2017 are the same as in previous World Championships.
“The crowd is always wonderful. They always show me so much love and I always appreciate being here. I'm excited about getting through to that final and doing my job to my best.”
The performance might have been shabby by his own stratospheric standards, but Bolt has only run faster once before in the heats of a global championships; he opened with a 9.96 at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing.
He will go into tomorrow’s semifinals still on the longest ever winning streak at 100m. Including heats, semis and finals, that now stands at 28 – since 6 June 2013 when he was edged out by Justin Gatlin (9.94 to 9.95) at the Golden Gala IAAF Diamond League meeting in Rome.
Gatlin, runner up to Bolt in the past three global 100m finals, booked his passage in more routine fashion, winning heat five in 10.05 from Bahrain’s Andrew Fisher (10.19) and Kukyoung Kim of South Korea (10.24). South Africa’s 9.95 performer Thando Roto was a notable casualty with a false start.
The gauntlet was thrown down in the opening heat by the fastest man in the world this year. Gatlin’s US teammate Christian Coleman, who clocked an NCAA record of 9.82 in June, shot out of his blocks in lane nine and pulled impressively clear of the field before shutting down in the last 10 metres.
The 21-year-old’s time, into a -0.1m/s headwind, was a tidy 10.01. Turkey’s Jak Ali Harvey took second place in a distant 10.13, with Cejhae Greene of Antigua and Barbuda third in 10.21.
There was another notable performance in heat two. Hakim Sani Brown, the 18-year-old Japanese sprinter who struck double gold at the IAAF World U18 Championships in 2015, got off to a cracking start and maintained his form all of the way to the line, winning in a PB of 10.05 into a -0.6m/s wind.
In doing so, the teenager claimed the scalp of 2011 world champion Yohan Blake. The Jamaican, runner-up to Bolt in the Olympic 100m final here in 2012, was slow out of his blocks and had to work hard to take second spot in 10.13, the same time as third placed Xie Zhenye of China.
There was a more impressive Jamaican performer in heat three. Julian Forte became the first man to break 10 seconds – indeed, the only man of the round – equalling his lifetime best of 9.99 in windless conditions. Ivorian Ben Youssef Meite, sixth in the Olympic final in Rio, was second in 10.02 with British champion Reece Prescod clocking a personal best of 10.03 in third.
Surprisingly, South African record-holder Akani Simbine was out of the automatic qualifying places, though his 10.15 in fourth was good enough to secure his passage to the next round.
The first false start disqualification came in heat four, Mosito Lehata of Lesotho jumping the starter’s gun and making a premature departure from the track. When the race got under way, Su Bingtian – a member of China’s silver medal winning 4x100m team in Beijing two years ago – grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, finishing a clear winner in 10.03, a season’s best.
Britain’s Chijindu Ujah, a consistently impressive performer on the IAAF Diamond League circuit, took third in 10.07 with Christopher Belcher of the US third in 10.13 on his international debut.
Simon Turnbull for the IAAF