Slow start can't stop Bolt in debut at last worlds

Jamaica's Usain Bolt greets his fans before a men's 100m heat during the World Athletics Championships in London Friday, Aug. 4, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

But speeds away to an easy victory in his opening 100-meter heat at his final world championships

LONDON — It was classic Bolt. The World's Fastest Man saved his best for last.

Lumbering out of the starting blocks and closer to last than first for half the race, Usain Bolt sped away nonetheless to an easy victory in his opening 100-meter heat Friday at his final world championships.

His time — 10.07 seconds — didn't matter.

Neither did the fact that the evening's best drama — and biggest cheers — belonged not to him, but to British distance runner Mo Farah, who got tripped and nearly jostled off the track twice on the last lap but still came away with his third straight world title at 10,000 meters.

What does matter is that Bolt, as expected, made it through safely to Saturday night, where he'll run the semifinals and, if nothing crazy happens there, will be favored to win his fourth world title at 100 meters.

"The race overall was a poor start," Bolt said. "I had to push myself a little to get back in the race. But overall, I'm glad I got to push myself, blow the cobwebs out. I'm feeling OK, but it wasn't a great race."

In truth, it looked like almost all of his 100-meter runs have over the years. He is 6-foot-5, more than a head taller than anyone else on the track and, as usual, he looked like a baby giraffe trying to gain his footing as he clambered out of the start.

"I just sat there small and tried to beat him at whatever point in the race I could beat him," said Warren Fraser, the 5-foot-8 veteran from the Bahamas, who lined up to Bolt's right and kept things even for the first 12 strides.

At 50 meters, Bolt started pulling ahead. At 75, he was looking to his left, where he saw nobody. At 90, he was shutting things down to coast to the finish line.

Bolt had some fun afterward, flashing the thumbs-up sign to the crowd and toying with the hedgehog mascot, who played with the Jamaican's shoes — one gold, one purple — before the champion headed off for his lengthy round of interviews.

Earlier in the week, he essentially guaranteed a win. Few could disagree, and when the man thought to be his best competition, Andre De Grasse of Canada, dropped out with an injury, the sentiment only grew. Among those who might challenge him include Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake, American Christian Coleman — he of the much-discussed 4.12 second 40-yard dash that he posted to social media — and Bolt's longtime challenger, Justin Gatlin.

"Everybody wants to make that moment happen," said Gatlin, who lost to Bolt by .01 seconds at worlds two years ago.

The first medals awarded on this evening were actually for races run years ago. Before the meet began, the IAAF held ceremonies for the 2013 U.S. women's 4x400-meter relay team and others who lost to runners — mostly from Russia — who were later found to have doped.

"Awkward and bittersweet were definitely the way to describe it," Natasha Hastings said while holding her new gold medal.

But better than nothing, which is what Jenn Suhr will get.

America's top pole vaulter won the Olympic gold medal in the same stadium five years ago and was looking for an encore. She didn't clear the bar in three attempts at 4.55 meters, and was gone before the medals round.

"I don't want to think about this," she said. "I walked into the stadium and had tears in my eyes for good memories. I don't want to leave disappointed."

Bolt also has great memories of London.

In 2012, he completed his second of three Olympic sweeps. Before those races, he put his finger to his lips, as if to shush the doubters, many of whom saw Blake beat him twice earlier that year and thought there was a changing of the guard in store.

Blake isn't the threat he once was.

And though the seven men who will line up against him Saturday night may disagree, the only person who may be able to knock off Bolt is Bolt himself.

Is he firing on all cylinders?

"I didn't get to run as smooth as I wanted, so I can't really say," he said. "But the fact I got back into the race real quick means I'm pretty much in decent form. Tomorrow, we'll see how the semifinals go, and then I can really say what's what."

___

More AP track coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/London2017

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