Heading for showdown: Justin Gatlin sprints to second China win at IAAF World Challenge

The 34-year-old veteran runs 9.94 seconds to clinch first place in men’s 100m sprint at event in Beijing, while Jamaican Usain Bolt is aiming for 9.8 in Prague

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 1:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 May, 2016, 1:30am

American sprinter Justin Gatlin clinched first place in the men’s 100 metre sprint on Wednesday at the 2016 IAAF World Challenge in Beijing, as he accelerates to an Olympic showdown with arch rival Usain Bolt.

Days after cruising to victory at the Diamond League event in Shanghai, the 34-year-old veteran ran 9.94 seconds, but fell short of beating the year’s fastest time of 9.91sec set by Femi Ogunode of Qatar.

In Prague, said he was fit to run at the Czech Golden Spike event on Friday after a hamstring scare, looking at 9.8 seconds for the 100 metres.

The event in the eastern Czech city of Ostrava will be the Jamaican sprint star’s second race this season in the run-up to the Rio Olympics in August, where he will defend his 100m, 200m and 4x100m titles from 2012.

Bolt, who owns the 100m world record at 9.58 seconds and the world 200m record of 19.19, clocked a modest 10.05 seconds on the 100m track in his season debut at the Cayman Invitational Meet last week.

Now the 29-year-old six-time Olympic gold medallist wants more, as he seeks an unprecedented third gold medal in a row in all three events in what he has said before will be his final Olympics.

“I’d be very happy with 9.8,” he said in the Czech capital Prague.

After the Caymans race, Bolt had a tight hamstring that forced him to see his doctor in Munich, Germany, but he dismissed all concerns about his fitness ahead of Ostrava.

“I’m feeling pretty good, I trained yesterday and everything was better,” he said.

Gatlin, meanwhile, has struggled to shake off controversy for previously failing two dope tests.

But when asked on Wednesday about news that 31 athletes in six sports could face Olympic bans for doping, he said: “I’ve just been focused on the season thus far.”

He added: “I think that the IAAF and the IOC are doing their job” to ensure that in Rio “all the athletes will be comfortable when it comes to competing against each other”.

Asked how he maintained his fitness in his 30s, he said: “Simple. I like to win. I like winning. I like the feel of it.”

Delayed by two false starts in the 100m that saw American Deondre Batson disqualified, Gatlin ran compatriot Mike Rodgers into a close second, followed in third by Chinese sprinter Xie Zhenye who set a personal best.

Gatlin is seeking to dust himself off after double disappointment at the world championships last year, where he lost both the 100m and 200m to Jamaica’s Bolt, adding extra spice to their expected meeting in Rio.

Gatlin has failed two dope tests during his career, but has returned to competition and represented the United States at the London 2012 Olympics.

Meanwhile, world record holder and Olympic champion Aries Merritt recovered from a disqualification days earlier in Shanghai to triumph in the men’s 110m hurdles with a time of 13.24sec, ahead of Xie Wenjun of China.

The result was a positive sign for the Olympic aims of the 30-year-old American, who recovered from a kidney transplant last September and is seeking a return to glory.

“I’m now recovering well,” he said in Beijing before the race. “My goal for Rio is obviously to make the US team win again.”

Previously in Shanghai he had said the long recovery process put him “months behind my competitors”.

In the women’s 200m sprint, Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica bounced back from her defeat in Shanghai to win easily, breezing to first in 22.29 sec.

The men’s pole vault saw 23-year-old Sam Kendricks of the US score another triumph after his surprise win in Shanghai, breaking his days-old personal best with a vault of 5.92m.

Last year’s world championship winner Shawn Barber of Canada again disappointed after a third-place finish in Shanghai, vaulting 5.60m for sixth place.

Chinese athletes put in a solid pre-Olympic performances. In the triple jump Dong Bin came first with a jump of 17.24m, while 2008 Olympic bronze medallist Zhang Wenxiu won the women’s hammer throw with a 75.58m toss.

Majd Eddin Ghazal of Syria, the country’s flag-bearer at the London 2012 Games, soared above the rest of the field in the men’s high jump, leaping a personal best 2.36m in front of a cheering crowd.