RIO DE JANEIRO — Usain Bolt turned the Olympic Stadium into his stage again for his first race at the Rio Games. With an easy win in his 100-meter heat, backed up by the trademark showmanship, he did not disappoint the crowd.
All of a sudden, the 60,000-capacity stadium was filled with noisy fans on a sunny Saturday, a stark contrast with the opening day.
The roar was immense as soon as the Jamaican turned up on the track. Bolt returned the favor, spreading his arms wide and applauding the crowd for its welcome and shouts of “Bolt, Bolt, Bolt.”
The crowd had been difficult to calm and silence ahead of the start of races so far, but when Bolt put his fingers to his lips for silence, all went quiet.
Bolt might have been slow out of the blocks, but once his tall frame is in full flow, there is no stopping him — in the heats at least.
“It wasn’t the best start. It felt kind of sluggish,” Bolt said, adding that he never has been a morning person and that preparations for his noon race felt unusual. “I’m not used to running this early in the morning in any championships.
“Hopefully tomorrow when I come out I’ll be feeling much better.”
From Lane 6, Bolt had time to look left four times to check out his opposition and coasted across the line. He showed no ill effect from a hamstring injury ahead of the Games, saying, “My right leg is good.”
His time of 10.07 seconds trailed that of longtime rival Justin Gatlin by 0.06 seconds, but Bolt was running into a headwind while the American had the wind on his side.
In his heat, Gatlin showed just as much poise — without the showmanship. He shot out of the blocks and let up at the very end for the best time of all racers.
Others to go through were Nickel Ashmeade and Yohan Blake of Jamaica and American Trayvon Bromell.
Bolt is bidding for his third straight title in the 100 and his third straight sprint triple. Gatlin is aiming for a second Olympic 100 title to add to the one he won at the 2004 Athens Games.