KINGSTON, Jamaica – And, he's off.
On a night where the only bit of drama came from a false start a few lanes over, Usain Bolt took his first step toward the London Olympics with an easy qualifying heat, finishing 100 meters in 10.06 seconds.
Starting four lanes over from Bolt, Ainsley Waugh jumped from the block early in the first heat Thursday night. The gun signaled the false start and the crowd — only a few thousand for a light schedule on opening night at National Stadium — oohed and ahhhed.
But Bolt was hardly fazed. After a brief break, he crouched his 6-foot-5 frame back toward the ground and stuck his lime-green shoes back into the blocks to get ready for the restart. He jumped out safely and slowly, accelerated past the competition with about 40 meters left, then looked left and right as he approached the finish line and saw exactly what he expected — nobody.
A few minutes later, defending world champion Yohan Blake ran the fastest time on a calm night in Kingston — 10 seconds flat — to advance. These times are almost certain to pick up Friday, when the semifinals and final are scheduled.
Bolt and Blake both declined comment after the race. Bolt, being followed by a couple dozen reporters, draped a towel over his head and a handler said, "Sunday, Sunday, Sunday," which is when the meet ends with the 200 final. Blake's contribution: "Can't talk. Later."
On Friday, though, the two are expected to line up against each other in the 100 final in what would be their first showdown since 2011 world championships, when Bolt false-started and Blake won the title.
Before that, one semifinal will pit Blake against Asafa Powell, who advanced in a time of 10.19 seconds. Powell, often the forgotten man in these conversations, was the last man before Bolt to hold the world record. Seems like eons ago, even though it was only four years. Last month, he lost to Bolt by 0.06 seconds and said he felt pretty ready to make a challenge. But if there's another gear or a challenge to be made, it probably won't be this week.
"We're not in London yet," Powell said. "So, no, it's not the time."
The first round of women's 100 heats were originally scheduled for Thursday, but with only 20 women in the field, those heats were scratched and everyone will advance to the semifinals Friday night.
Those races could be the most competitive of the meet. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce is the defending Olympic champion, while Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart were part of a medals sweep for Jamaica in Beijing. But before all that, Veronica Campbell-Brown was considered the island country's best sprinter. She failed to make it out of trials four years ago, though she did go in the 200, where she won her second straight Olympic title.
Four (or more) contenders for three spots: It's a situation some men would like to believe exists, as well.
Actually edging Powell in their heat was Nesta Carter, whose official time was also 10.19. The class of the fourth heat was Michael Frater, a long-time figure on the Jamaican track scene, who owns gold medals from the last three major 400 relays — Beijing, and the 2009 and 2011 world championships.
"As long as I go out and run the best race, I'll be satisfied," Frater said after running 10.09.
Also advancing easily, much earlier in the day, was defending 400 hurdles Olympic champion Melanie Walker. She ran her heat in 54.88 seconds, more than a second better than the next-best hurdler.
In the 400 sprint, Novlene Williams-Mills advanced easily on this, the same track where she notched a victory over Sanya Richards-Ross last month at the Jamaican Invitational.
It was at that same meet four years ago that Bolt announced his presence, running a track-record 9.76 seconds. Within weeks, he had broken Powell's world record at a small meet in New York. A few months after that, he set the record again in Beijing, coasting to the line and still recording a 9.69.
He has dropped the record to 9.58 and become larger than life — a reality felt most keenly on this night by a sprinter named Ramone Nichol, who drew Lane 7 for the first heat. The lane next to Bolt.
"I like to think of it as a little less pressure on you, and more on him," Nichol said, after his sixth-place finish in 10.44. "But this person I lined up next to tonight, it's really an experience. I hope I'll get many more chances."
Associated Press Writer David McFadden contributed to this report.