American runners advance in early 100-meter, 1,500-meter heats

Updated: August 15, 2008, 11:23 AM ET
Associated Press

BEIJING -- After his second successful sprint at the Olympics, Tyson Gay jumped over a barrier to avoid a waiting horde of reporters.

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That said as much as Gay said himself regarding how his left hamstring felt Friday in his second 100-meter heat.

The defending world champion finished his quarterfinal race in 10.09 seconds, second behind NCAA champion Richard Thompson of Trinidad, to advance easily to the final 16 in track and field's glamour event.

"It felt pretty relaxed," Gay said when finally persuaded to stop just for a second to offer an update. "I just wanted to make it through."

He did, and so did world record-holder Usain Bolt and fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell, keeping alive a potential dream final matching the three men with the eight fastest times in history.

[+] EnlargeTyson Gay
Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty ImagesTyson Gay injured himself during the U.S. Olympic trials but advanced with ease in the 100-meter dash Friday.
In the semifinals Saturday, the world gets its first Olympic showdown -- Powell vs. Gay in the second heat. Bolt's biggest challenge in the other semifinal figures to come from America's Walter Dix and Derrick Atkins of the Bahamas.

Gay was the biggest question mark of the Big Three coming into this, his first Olympics. He hadn't raced in six weeks, when he went tumbling to the track and had to be taken off in a stretcher at the Olympic trials. He was diagnosed with a strained hamstring that he insisted was fine earlier this week.

He did nothing to disprove that in two races Friday, starting cleanly and conserving energy at the end, the way the medal contenders are supposed to.

Also still in play is the three-man American success story in the men's 1,500. Bernard Lagat, Leo Manzano and U.S. team flagbearer Lopez Lomong all made it out of their first races.

Lagat, a double gold medal contender hoping to add to the silver and bronze he won for Kenya in the last two Olympics, showed his trademark kick, chasing from 11th to fourth in the final lap of his race.

Lomong, a "Lost Boy" refugee from Sudan, got the fifth and final qualifying spot in his race.

Manzano, at 5-foot-5 and 125 pounds among the smallest in his race, got into a nasty bump-and-push match with Deresse Mekonnen of Ethiopia and finished sixth. That was out of the automatic qualifying -- but his time of 3 minutes, 36.67 seconds earned him a wild-card spot in Sunday's semis.

In the 100, Bolt had the fastest time of the second round at 9.92 seconds -- the fastest ever run in China -- and he made it look easy.

"I just ran the first 50 meters, then I looked around to make sure I was safe and I shut it off," he said.

Even before he slows down, he looks as if he's loping down the track, unfurling his 6-5 frame out of the starting blocks, then taking off -- a unique sight in an event supposedly not made for tall men.

"He's a phenomenal athlete," Darvis Patton said.

But nobody was ceding the race to Bolt, Powell or Gay.

"I know I'm going to win for sure," said Churandy Martina of Netherlands Antilles after winning the first heat with his first official time under 10 seconds -- at 9.99, just one of three men to break 10 seconds Friday. "That's why I'm here. If not, I would've stayed home and watched it on TV."

To advance, Martina needs to finish among the top four in the second heat with Gay and Powell.


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press