Justyn Warner matched the fastest man in the world Saturday afternoon. It was just enough for ninth-best out of 16 semi-finalists in the men’s 100 metres. But it was there on the statistics sheet nonetheless: Warner, Justyn, CAN 10.09 seconds. Bolt, Usain, JAM, 10.09 seconds.
Warner, the 24-year-old Markham, Ont., native who is making his first appearance in the Olympics, advanced to Sunday’s semi-finals of the marquee event in athletics, the men’s 100-metres, with a personal best 10.09 seconds in Saturday’s qualifying heat.
Warner finished third in his heat behind the fastest qualifier, Ryan Bailey of the U.S., who laid down a time of 9.88 seconds at Olympic Stadium. That was the fastest qualifying time in Olympics history – breaking a record that had been set in the previous heat by another U.S. runner, Justin Gatlin.
All three U.S. runners advanced – Tyson Gay is the other – as did Bolt, Yohan Blake and Asafa Powell of Jamaica. Bolt, the defending 100 and 200-metres gold medalist, was given a 20-second ovation as he was announced, rubbing his head and face as the crowd roared. That he is the biggest star here – even with athletes from host Great Britain competing – is beyond doubt. As other events went on during the morning, fans were teased by an in-stadium announcer telling them that ‘you know who’ was only a few minutes away from racing.
Bolt stumbled out of the blocks – the cognoscenti are convinced he’s tentative as a result of his false-start disqualification in the World championships in Daegu in 2011, and only two of the seven other runners in his heat had slower starts – but he all but ambled over the final 30 metres, glancing to his left for his last two strides. Powell’s time was 10.04 and he won his heat easily, stopping dead in his tracks a stride or two across the finish line and shrugging. Blake was the fastest of the three – 10 seconds flat.
Warner smashed his previous best 10.15 seconds that he’d put down in winning the Canadian Olympic trials in Calgary and then at the NTL meet in Toronto, after which he sighed and wondered what he needed to do to get below the mark. Looks like he figured it out. His reaction time of 0.149 seconds out of the blocks was the best of any runner in his heat and ninth-best of the 48 runners entered. The three Jamaicans were behind him.
“My start was good, but my transition could have been better. I didn’t change gear the way I normally do,” said Warner, whose fiancée Nikkita Holder is competing for Canada in the women’s 110-metres hurdles. “It will come. I know it’s there. I just need to execute tomorrow, and put everything down on the track.”
Warner is used to being on the same track as the stars of the sport from competing on the Diamond League circuit. He’s raced against Blake and Bolt and said in an interview earlier this week from the Olympic Village that he didn’t think his Olympics would start until he was standing on the track. So?
“It was awesome,” said Warner, an easy-met guy with a ready smile. “The fans. The loudness. I mean, I’m focused on my race … but I could hear my brother screaming in the stands. I could hear him screaming at the top of his lungs. And I know my parents were out there somewhere, too.”
Warner’s plans for the night included an ice-bath, some dinner and rest. There will be little talk of the semi-finals. “I’m really a guy who goes race to race,” he said, shrugging. “So, I’m not going to be thinking a lot about it.”
Bolt set World record times in the 100, 200 and 4 x 100-metres relay in Beijing but his hegemony is threatened by his training partner, Blake. Bolt was his usual affable self in the mixed zone after his heat, although there was a guarded element to him that hasn’t been seen in the past. Blake brushed by reporters, engaging only briefly in a good-natured exchange with Jamaican reporters but not breaking stride. Gatlin smiled when he was asked how Bolt looked.
“He looked good. He looked like Bolt,” said Gatlin. “It’s the equivalent of a guy walking on the moon for the first time. You're going to be in awe sometimes; you’re going to almost have an audience mentality: But you have to block that out, go out there and compete against that guy."
Warner will be in Lane 9 in the third semi-final (scheduled for 3:01 p.m. ET) in a heat that includes Blake and Gay. Four of the eight have personal best times under 10 seconds.
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