Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin will meet in a final duel on the track after helping their teams qualify for the final of the 4×100-metre relay on Saturday at the 2017 IAAF World Championships in London.
The United States, with Gatlin running the second leg, won the first heat in a world leading time of 37.70 seconds. The Americans beat Britain and Japan, who also qualified.
Seven days after the deflating experience of a surprise defeat in his final individual race, the fastest man in history, Bolt, was back on the track in the London Stadium.
Three-quarters of the way through heat two, Bolt got the relay baton in his hand at the head of the home straight in the penultimate race of his trailblazing sprinting career.
As it the crucial opening stages of the 100m final last Saturday night, he was down on his rivals. This time, however, the gap was only marginal.
Thanks to the efforts of his fledgling Jamaican team-mates, the nine-time world championship gold medallist and eight-time Olympic gold medal winner was breathing down the necks of China’s Peimeng Zhang and the Christophe Lemaitre of France as he set off down a home straight for the second last time.
To the roar of the crowd, Bolt got those long legs moving, easing seemingly effortlessly in front to take victory for Jamaica in 37.95, ahead of France (38.03) and China (38.20). The slick USA and Great Britain clocked quicker times but the great man will have a shot at a tenth world championship gold come final time in the Saturday evening session.
“It’s not a time to be sad, because the energy from this crowd is great,” said the man who clocked his stratospheric 100m (9.58) and 200m (19.19) world records at the 2009 IAAF World Championships in Berlin. “I’m just happy. I’m blessed.
“There are no words to describe how I am feeling. I get so much support from the crowd. I appreciate that a lot. All the energy I am getting from the crowd is brilliant.
“The young runners in our team… it is just about executing and coming through the race for them. We have been training for the relay. There were some camps but still there were some mistakes.
“Yohan Blake coming in for the final is definitely good.”
Barring a dropped baton, it would seem likely that Bolt will sprint off into the sunset with a 15th world championship gold medal, taking him one clear of Merlene Ottey – though perhaps not, by the end of the championships, of Allyson Felix, who also shares the record of 14 but has the possibility of two relay opportunities for the United States.
Bolt has anchored Jamaica to victory in the last six global championship 4 x 100m relay finals but there was an unfamiliar look to their quartet in London, with no Blake (in round one at least), Powell, Ashmeade or Carter.
This time the living legend was backed up by Tyquendo Tracey, Julian Forte and Michael Campbell – all new to the senior global championship relay game.
France and China also qualified.