BEIJING, August 26- Sprint king Usain Bolt and American rival Justin Gatlin swept into the 200 metres final with consumate ease on Wednesday as they prepared to resume hostilities at the world championships.
Gatlin, a two-times doping offender looking to avenge his defeat by Bolt in last weekend’s 100m, clocked the fastest time of the semi-finals in 19.87 seconds in Beijing, with Bolt second fastest in 19.95 going into Thursday’s shootout.
Grinning broadly as he decelerated well before the line, Olympic champion Bolt had indulged in similar kidology in the 100m before smashing Gatlin’s hopes in the final.
But Gatlin warned he would be ready for the final, where Bolt will be chasing his fourth successive world 200m title.
“I feel confident,” said Gatlin, who has shown signs of irritation at his portrayal as the pantomime villain of athletics since arriving in China.
“I didn’t go out there and run fast, so hopefully I’ll put more energy into the finals and come out on top.”
Gatlin paid tribute to world record holder Bolt, winner of an astonishing 10 of the last 11 individual Olympic and world sprint titles since shooting to fame at the 2008 Beijing Games.
“He’s a true competitor,” said the 33-year-old Gatlin. “There are two competitors that like to compete. You’ve got to have that rivalry.”
Bolt, 29, who shot to fame at the Bird’s Nest stadium at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, agreed with Gatlin’s appraisal.
“I’ve learned over the years that I’m a great competitor,” shrugged the six-time Olympic champion. “It was easy, I did what I had to do and I didn’t expend a lot of energy. I’m technically more sound over 200. A fourth world title will be a big deal for me.”
Almost on the undercard of the showdown between the two heavyweights, South Africa’s Anaso Jobodwana clocked the third quickest in a personal best 20.01 with Panama’s Alonso Edward fourth in 20.02.
Nigerian-born Qatari Femi Ogunode, who himself has served a two-year doping ban, underlined his medal credentials as the Asian Games champion qualified fifth fastest in a national record 20.05.
All eyes will again be on Bolt and Gatlin on Thursday, however, after Sunday’s electrifying 100m, which was billed as a battle for the soul of athletics.
Allegations of widespread doping rocked athletics before the world championships but Bolt’s victory over a field including four former drug cheats gave the crisis-hit sport a major lift.
Bolt, who had been hampered by a pelvic problem earlier in the season, roared to victory in the 100m in 9.79 seconds, retaining his world title by just one hundredth from Gatlin, the season’s fastest man.
“I think it’s all about who runs the corner the best and who can hold their form for the last 40 metres,” said Bolt. “It’s all about focus now.”