By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Wayde van Niekerk safely negotiated the first stage of his attempted 400 metres/200 meters World Championships double on Saturday when he cruised through his opening heat in his favored one-lap event.
The world and Olympic champion and world record holder unsurprisingly did the minimum required to finish the 400m in 45.27 seconds and was given a terrific reception by a crowd of over 50,000 – a completely unprecedented number for a morning session of a world championships.
The South African’s chief rivals also had few problems advancing to Sunday’s semi-finals ahead of the final on Tuesday night.
Fred Kerley, the American who has raced more than 40 times this season but has only been a professional for a matter of weeks, started closing down and looking around after 300 meters and still clocked an impressive 44.92.
Compatriot and former world and Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt also went through safely.
Botswana’s Isaac Makwala was the fastest qualifier in 44.55, while compatriot Thebe Baboloki (44.82) could also be in the mix.
Long-striding Steven Gardiner of the Bahamas also looked supremely untroubled in clocking 44.75.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)