LONDON — Does Usain Bolt do it on purpose? Or does drama and uncertainty just naturally gravitate to him as championship races approach?
To those not versed in Bolt’s history, the unbeatable looked vulnerable Friday in the first round of the men’s 100-meter dash at the IAAF World Championships. Bolt got off to a poor start, even by his long-limbed standards. He was in fourth place at 40 meters. He needed to actually exert himself against such pretenders as Shuhei Tada of Japan to win his heat in a lackluster 10.07 seconds.
Bolt advanced to Saturday’s semifinals. The finals are later that night. Bolt, 30, says it will be the last individual race of his transcendent career. One might like to think the outcome is in doubt. Utter dominance fascinates in the history books, but can bore in the moment. Ever the showman, Bolt has a history of nagging ailments and slow early-season times. This year, his balky back required a trip to his specialist in Germany. He has only cracked 10 seconds once, with a pedestrian — for Bolt — 9.95.
Running in Lane 7, Bolt looked to his left at 40 meters, accelerated to the front, then eased up at the finish ahead of Great Britain’s James Dasaolu (10.13) and France’s Jimmy Vicault (10.15). Tada also qualified for the semifinals, finishing fourth in 10.19.
Bolt’s time was eighth-fastest of the first round. His fellow countryman Julian Forte was first in a personal-best 9.99. USA’s Christian Coleman was second-fastest after coasting in the final 20 meters of his heat and clocking 10.01. Two other Americans also advanced: veteran Justin Gatlin (10.05), who was roundly booed, as he was at last year’s Rio Olympics, for a 2007 doping suspension, and newcomer Christopher Belcher (10.13).
Coleman owns the fastest time in the world this year at 9.82 seconds. With the 35-year-old Gatlin slowing down and Canadian sprinter Andre De Grasse out of London with a hamstring injury, Coleman, 21, seems to be the only athlete who can challenge Bolt.
This is Coleman’s first experience in a world-championship setting. He ran a qualifying leg of the 4×100 in Rio. “Had to control my nerves, the atmosphere was really exciting,” Coleman said after his heat. “Had to just come out and execute, stay within myself, focus on my lane.”
In a pre-meet news conference, Coleman deflected all questions about Bolt. Now that the races have arrived, though, he said he came to London to win.
“Everybody has the same goal — try to come out and get the win. I have that same goal. My mindset is to come out and win.”
Can he beat Bolt?
“Yeah, I have a lot of confidence in myself, that I can come out and win,” he said. “But you never take anybody for granted.”
Especially the fastest man ever.