(L-R) Abdul Hakim Sani Brown (Japan), Christian Coleman and Rodrigo Do Nascimento (Brazil) competing in the men's 100-meter heats at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Doha 2019 on Sept. 27, 2019 in Doha, Qatar.
DOHA, Qatar – Defending world champion Justin Gatlin breezed through the first round of the 100-meter at the IAAF World Championships just like the air conditioning did at Khalifa International Stadium thanks to a state-of-the-art cooling system.
While that was step one in Gatlin’s bid to repeat as the fastest man in the world, he wasn’t as prepared for the 14 steep steps all athletes must take to leave the track and face television interviewers.
“The stairs were more of a challenge than anything,” Gatlin quipped.
His teammate Christian Coleman, who came in with the world-leading time of 9.81 seconds, was the only man under 10 seconds, posting a time of 9.98.
“It felt good,” Coleman said with a smile, refusing to say any more as he bolted from the interview zone with nearly the same speed he ran down the straightaway.
Akani Simbine of South Africa was next at 10.01 and Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist who is 37 years old, clocked 10.06, a hair better than former world champion Yohan Blake of Jamaica at 10.07. All four won their heats.
Michael Rodgers of Team USA also qualified for the semifinals in 10.14.
Coleman placed second behind Gatlin at the 2017 world championships as both defeated Jamaica’s Usain Bolt in the legend’s final hurrah on the track.
After his race, Coleman came up the steps slowly and stopped to watch the replay on the scoreboard. Marcell Jacobs of Italy lightly tapped him on the arm in appreciation. Jacobs was second in the heat, almost a tenth of a second behind at 10.07.
While Coleman coolly turned his head to see if anyone was close as he finished, Gatlin was more demonstrative at the line, raising his arm in triumph. He defeated Andre De Grasse of Canada, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in the event, who ran 10.13.
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“It feels great to be back in Doha,” Gatlin said of the Diamond League tour destination. “I have a lot of history here. I wanted to come back and be healthy. I had an injury two weeks ago, so I am happy to run my first race healthy and be dominant.”
He obviously enjoyed the air conditioning, which won’t be available to the women’s marathoners who were set to start at a minute before midnight Friday.
“The Qataris are very impressive with all their technology,” Gatlin said, noting that it is “cutting edge for both athletes and spectators. It is going to be a great experience for athletes and fans.”
He also hopes to give them something to cheer about in Saturday’s semifinals and final. “Moving forward, I just want to stay focused on my race and execute each phase and be able to come out on top,” Gatlin said.
The three main contenders in the men’s 400-meter hurdles each left the track a winner, loping to easy victories that were only a hint of how fast they can go.
First, Karsten Warholm of Norway, who won the world title in 2017 when he celebrated by wearing a Viking helmet, easily won his heat in a time of 49.27 seconds.
Warholm said he made “some mistakes, so hopefully I don’t do anymore.”
Hometown favorite Abderrahman Samba of Qatar won his heat in 49.08, then Rai Benjamin of Team USA was first across the line in 49.62 seconds.
On Aug. 29, Warholm ran 46.92 in the Diamond League Final in Zurich, closely followed by Benjamin at 46.98 in a race that made world record holder Kevin Young gulp. Samba has also run 46.98.
Young ran 46.78 at the Olympic Games Barcelona 1992 and also holds the world championships record of 47.18 from 1993 in Stuttgart, Germany.
“I felt pretty good; I was just shaking the rust out,” Benjamin said, “because it’s been a good while since I raced. But I thought it was a pretty good race. It’s just a matter of getting back in it.”
And this is his first worlds. “Just having USA on your chest takes it to another level,” Benjamin said. “I just felt like you can’t let down your USA teammates. That was a big plus today, honestly. Although it was just the prelim rounds, I had a lot of people out there and the atmosphere was pretty good.”
Actually, it was pretty cool.