(Reuters) -Sha’Carri Richardson’s coronation is complete.
Billed as American athletics’ next star, the 5-foot, 1-inch dynamo didn’t disappoint, torching the 100-metre finals in 10.87 with her trademark flourish at the U.S. Olympic trials, raising her arms to the sky and letting out a cheer in front of an elated crowd as she booked her ticket to Tokyo.
“I’m highly blessed and grateful,” said Richardson, who told a television reporter that she learned last week that her biological mother had passed away.
“Nobody but them and my coach know what I go through on a day-to-day basis,” pointing to her family, moments after she had embraced her grandmother in the stands.
Richardson, who posted a 10.64 in the semi-finals earlier in the day, leads a trio of first-time Olympians in the event, with 26-year-old Javianne Oliver and Teahna Daniels, 24, joining her on Team USA, as the Stars and Stripes aims to earn its first gold in the event in more than two decades.
Veterans also had a chance to shine at the newly renovated Hayward Field on Saturday, as nine-time Olympic medallist Allyson Felix, 35, continued on her path to Tokyo after claiming a second-best time of 51.01 in the 400m semi-final in front of a roaring crowd.
“I have a lot of experience now, but I’ve had to fight for this opportunity, not take it for granted,” said Felix.
The event proved a disappointment for 2017 World champion Phyllis Francis, however, who failed to make the final.
On the men’s side, the first heats of the 100m proved as competitive as expected.
Noah Lyles kept his hope of a triple in Tokyo alive, advancing to the semi-finals in the 100m with a 9.95 performance, his first sub-10-second run in the event this year, while world leader Trayvon Bromell put up the top time with a blistering, wind-assisted 9.84-second sprint.
“Everything is in prep for the 200. I’m taking it round by round, day by day,” said Lyles, the world champion in that event. “I’m not going to say ‘survive and advance’ because I just want to execute every race as best as I can.”
Five-time Olympic medallist Justin Gatlin, 39, got his bid for a fourth Games off to a roaring start, booking his spot in the semi-finals with a 9.93, tying with Fred Kerley for the third-best run of the night.
“For a lot of athletes I think it’s going to take a lifetime best (to get to the finals),” Gatlin told reporters. “I think it’s going to be a great finals, great semis too.”
Elsewhere in the day’s action, 800m world champion Donavan Brazier advanced to the finals in the event.
World record-holder Keni Harrison put up a leading time of 12.49 in the first round of the women’s 100m hurdles, while Brianna McNeal, who has been suspended but received permission from the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) to run, won her heat in 12.50.
McNeal, who won the event in Rio five years ago, received a five-year ban, the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU) said earlier this month, for an anti-doping rule violation.
In the discus, favourite Valarie Allman punched her ticket to Tokyo with a top performance of 69.92, followed by Micaela Hazlewood and Rachel Dincoff.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Additional reporting by Gene Cherry; Editing by Christopher Cushing)