Bolt laughs his way through the heats

Click to follow
The Independent Online

For the first 5m, perhaps even 10m, of Usain Bolt's opening race in the World Championship arena yesterday, the world's fastest man was playing catch-up with the English Schools and Yorkshire county 100m champion of 2006. Even slower out of the blocks than normal, the Jamaican phenomenon who flew to a trio of Olympic golds in the Beijing Bird's Nest last summer found himself trailing in the wake of Gerald Phiri, a one-time trialist with the footballing Owls of Sheffield Wednesday.

Now a student of nutritional science at the Texas Agricultural and Mechanical University, Phiri was running in the colours of his native Zambia. Like Jessica Ennis, though, the 20-year-old happens to be a track and field athlete forged in the Steel City of South Yorkshire. He spent seven years living there and training as an up-and-coming team-mate of the burgeoning heptathlete at the City of Sheffield Athletics Club. He had a trials as a striker for Sheffield Wednesday but reckons he "got a little too fast for the rest of the boys."

For a few fleeting moments in the Olympiastadion yesterday Phiri was a little bit too fast for the man who took the 100m world record to 9.69sec in Beijing. But then the Lightning Bolt got cracking. Or jogging, as it might be judged by his standards

By the finish line, Bolt was still some way short of breaking sweat but was 0.10sec clear of Phiri as a barely-cantering winner in 10.20sec. "I knew if I got out quick I could stay with Usain for maybe 10m," the sometime Sheffielder reflected, "but not for the other 90m."

Still, Phiri had enough staying power to get through to the second round as runner-up, then made the cut for today's semi-finals as a 'fastest loser,' clocking 10.16sec for fourth place in a race won in 10.01sec by Michael Rodgers of the United States. Londoner Tyrone Edgar finished runner-up in that second round heat, clocking 10.12sec. Sadly, he was one of only two British team members to progress to the penultimate stage.

Drawn in the lane next to Bolt in his second round race, Simeon Williamson failed to make the grade, finishing fifth in 10.23sec - a huge disappointment after his impressive victory in the British trials last month. "I got cramps in my legs after three steps," the Highgate Harrier lamented. Bolt produced another playful performance, grinning from ear to ear as he allowed his Antiguan training partner Daniel Bailey the honour of victory, in 10.02sec.

The world record holder, runner-up in 10.03sec, was only the fifth fastest qualifier overall. Asafa Powell, Bolt's Jamaican team-mate, was fastest, with 9.95sec - followed by Tyson Gay, the reigning champion from the USA, with 9.95sec.

As for Dwain Chambers, the British speed merchant who has been working all year on his 'Project Bolt,' the one-time doping offender clocked the second fastest time of the opening round, 10.18sec, then won his second round heat in 10.04sec, his quickest time of the year. Impressively, the Belgrave Harrier finished 0.04sec clear of Richard Thompson, the Trinidadian who took Olympic silver behind Bolt in Beijing. Asked whether he still had any projects in mind, a bullish Chambers replied: "Always. I'll be the one who puts the spanner in the works tomorrow night."