RIO DE JANEIRO — It’s no easy thing to push Usain Bolt, even in an Olympic warm-up race.
It might be even tougher to upstage him.
Some of Wednesday night’s most entertaining theater came, as usual, from the Jamaican star, who smiled and wagged his finger at a brash up-and-comer while winning his 200-meter semifinals heat. Bolt will go for his eighth Olympic gold in the final on Thursday.
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Bolt’s main goal during the opening rounds is to conserve energy, which is exactly what he was doing when he looked to his right, saw Canada’s Andre de Grasse a few steps behind him and put it on cruise control.
The only problem was, de Grasse, the bronze medalist in the 100, didn’t back down. He sped up, caught up and suddenly, the two were nose-to-nose, peering and smiling at each other down the stretch. Bolt finished in 19.78 to win by a scant .02 seconds. He wagged his finger at de Grasse as they crossed the line.
“That was really unnecessary,” Bolt said. “I don’t know what he was trying to do. He’s a young kid. He’s great. He has a lot of talent. I’m looking forward to the competition in the final.”
The competition won’t include American Justin Gatlin, who has given Bolt more run for his money than anyone else over the past four years. In the evening’s biggest stunner, Gatlin finished third in his heat and did not qualify for the final.
He said he rolled an ankle in the run-up to the Olympics and was happy just to make it here.
“Probably, I should have rested it instead of running on it,” said Gatlin, who finished second to Bolt in the 100.
Team USA’s Lashawn Merritt did qualify for the final. He finished first in his semifinal and third overall with a time of 19.94.
Joining Gatlin (20.13) in failing to qualify was American Ameer Webb (20.43).
Bolt, who has his eyes on not only the win but maybe another world record, is hoping his time will come Thursday night.
“I definitely think I can try for the world record,” said the sprinter, whose current record in the 200 stands at 19.19 seconds. “But now, it’s executing right, running the corner efficiently and coming in the straight and running the perfect race.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.