By Mitch Phillips
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Usain Bolt took the first “sluggish” steps toward his hoped-for Olympic triple-triple on Saturday when he eased through his 100 meters heat as the fans turned out in force to see the sport’s superstar bring the athletics program to life.
After Friday’s feeble turnout on a gray, wet morning, there were enough in the 60,000-capacity stadium to attempt a somewhat ragged Mexican wave in the Saturday sunshine, although there was no shortage of excitement to keep them occupied.
Much of it came from the unlikely source of the men’s discus, where German Christoph Harting snatched victory with his last throw, four years after his brother Robert took the title in London.
Bolt was the headline act, however, even if his progress was a foregone conclusion.
Big-screen glimpses of him on the warm-up track brought roars of appreciation from the crowd and when the Jamaican entered the arena and clapped the fans they responded with a throaty roar of appreciation.
Bolt looked a little tight warming up, with possibly a barely perceptible limp, and he was slow out of the blocks, as he often is.
Into his running, though, he eased through to win the seventh of eight heats in 10.07 seconds.
“It wasn’t the best start, I feel kind of sluggish. I think it’s the fact that it’s the morning,” he said, having arrived at the track in good time for the early afternoon start.
“I’m feeling good, my leg is ok and I’ve got the first one out of the way so I’m happy about that. Now it’s all about execution and getting it right.
“A lot of guys are running fast, so it’s going to be some stacked semi-finals.”
One of them is American 2004 Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, likely to be Bolt’s main challenger in Sunday’s final. He was given a warm welcome despite his doping history and was the fastest qualifier in 10.01.
The discus produced a near-carbon copy of Friday’s women’s shot put drama which saw American Michelle Carter snatch an unexpected win with her final throw, leaving Valerie Adams with silver after the New Zealander failed to beat it with her last.
On Saturday, it was Piotr Malachowski sitting pretty with two throws left in the men’s competition but Harting found 68.37 meters with the first of them and the Pole could not respond.
In the women’s heptathlon, Nafissatou Thiam’s 6.58 meter long jump was enough to edge the 21-year-old Belgian five points ahead of Britain’s defending champion Jessica Ennis-Hill with two events remaining.
Later on Saturday, the women’s 100 meters final includes Jamaica’s Shelly-Anne Fraser-Pryce, bidding for a third straight gold while the men’s 10,000m sees Briton Mo Farah seeking the first leg of a double-double and the heptathlon concludes.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)