By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) – Usain Bolt took his first, somewhat stuttering, steps towards what he hopes will be a glorious World Championship farewell on Friday when he recovered from a poor start to win his heat in the first round of the 100 meters in 10.07 seconds.
The Jamaican is seeking his fourth gold in the event – he has won the 100m at every world championships since 2009 apart from 2011 in Daegu when he was disqualified for a false start.
It wasn’t a false start on Friday, just a bad one, and Bolt said his blocks were to blame.
“That was very bad,” he told reporters. “I stumbled a little bit coming out of my blocks. I’m not really a fan of these blocks. These are the worst blocks I have ever experienced. I have to get the start together as I can’t keep doing this.”
Asked what is wrong with the blocks, he said: “It’s shaky. When I did my warm-up and pushed back, it fell back. It’s just not what I’m used to. It’s not as sturdy.”
Bolt was given his usual rapturous welcome by the 55,000 crowd at the stadium where he completed the sprint double at the 2012 Olympics.
After finally getting into his stride he forced his way through the field.
“I didn’t run as smooth as I’d like to but the way I got back into the race shows I am in decent form,” he said. “After the semi-finals I can say what is what.”
As always, his every move was greeted with adulation by fans well aware that the superstar of the sport is in his final days.
“The crowd is always wonderful,” he said. “They always show me so much love and I always appreciate being here.”
The fans were less pleased with former world and Olympic champion Justin Gatlin, twice banned for doping offences and pipped by Bolt in the world championship final two years ago. The American was loudly booed by many in the crowd when his name was announced and again when he won his heat in 10.05.
Gatlin is well used to such receptions, however, and shrugged it off.
“I am not worried about the crowds and I just focus on my start and my race,” said the 35-year-old. “I’m just here, seeing my team mates, seeing my countryman and just having a good time.
“It was an easy start, very technical, smooth. My form is the best that can be this year. I feel great. You know I had a couple of injuries this year so I just want to be the best I can be.”
Compatriot Christian Coleman, the fastest man in the world this year with 9.92, also looked strong in winning the first heat in 10.01.
On a cool but windless night, Jamaican Julian Forte was the only man to break 10 seconds, clocking 9.99.
The big surprise was South Africa’s Akani Simbine, who has been in hot sub-10 form all season but finished fourth in his heat in 10.15 to scrape through as a fast loser.
The semi-finals and final take place on Saturday evening. Bolt is also due to go in the 4x100m relay a week later – his final championship race before retirement.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)