KAWASAKI – Justin Gatlin geared up his bid to unseat sprint king Usain Bolt at this summer’s Rio Olympics with a time of 10.02 seconds to win the 100 meters at the Golden Grand Prix on Sunday.
American Gatlin, who lost out to Jamaica’s Bolt in both the 100 and 200 meters at last August’s world championships in Beijing, eased home ahead of Japan’s Ryota Yamagata and Ramon Gittens of Barbados at Kawasaki’s Todoroki Stadium.
“The race felt good,” said Athens Olympic 100-meter champion Gatlin. “I knew I was going to have a head wind when I practiced yesterday. Today I talked to my coach on the phone and he told me to have a good start. He knows that Japanese athletes have good starts, so just stay with them.
“I don’t want to start the season off so fast and run with such a high intensity so I came out here and just made sure I got the job done, execute my race and hopefully come away with the victory.”
Gatlin is likely to provide two-time Olympic double sprint champion Bolt with his strongest challenge in Rio, and the 34-year-old believes he has learned the lessons of last year’s world championship defeat.
“Definitely it has given me motivation but it’s also made me a smarter and a wiser competitor,” said Gatlin. “To go out there and know when to stay within my technique, execute my race and just worry about myself all the way to the finish line.
“When you go against someone like Usain, who is unique in stature and talent, you’ve got to come with a contingency plan or a Plan B to be able to compete against him. So this year you’ve got to be wiser and smarter.”
A crowd of 23,500 was hoping to see young starlets Yoshihide Kiryu and Abdul Hakim Sani Brown become the first Japanese sprinters to break the 10-second barrier in the 100 meters, but instead it was Yamagata who finished second behind Gatlin.
“I slipped a little at the start and for a moment there I was worried,” said Yamagata, who clocked a time of 10.21. “After that I was able to get myself back together. I think I overcame my emotions because I was very nervous.”
Kiryu finished fourth in a time of 10.27, while 17-year-old Sani Brown was fifth in 10.34.
“I wasn’t really nervous today,” said Sani Brown. “The season has just begun and I’m just getting started.”
Tianna Bartoletta of the U.S. won the women’s 100 meters in a time of 11.23 seconds ahead of Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare and Barbara Pierre of the U.S., and also claimed the long jump title.
“Today I learned that I do what it takes to win even if it’s not perfect, and the same was true for the 100,” said Bartoletta, the reigning long jump world champion. “I thought I could have gotten to the finish line a little better but I kind of panicked because I knew I was tired. But I’m really happy with it.”
Japan’s Julian Jrummi Walsh added a feather to his cap by beating Athens Olympics gold medalist Jeremy Wariner to win the men’s 400 meters.
Walsh failed to beat the Olympic qualifying time but still crossed the line in 45.68 seconds ahead of Jarrin Solomon of Trinidad and Tobago and third-place Wariner.
“I came round the last corner and thought I could do it, and although I thought I was going to have to settle for second right at the end, I won,” said the 19-year-old Toyo University student. “To win is great experience for me but I didn’t get the time I wanted.”
Japan’s Shota Iizuka beat the Olympic qualifying time in finishing second behind Canada’s Aaron Brown in the men’s 200 meters with a time of 20.40 seconds. Iizuka can seal his place in Rio if he wins the event at the national championships next month.
World champion Shawn Barber of Canada won the men’s pole vault at a height of 5.62 meters.
“I’m very happy with how I performed today,” said Barber, who beat Japan’s Daichi Sawano and Seito Yamamoto who finished second and third, respectively.
“It’s not the height that I wanted to beat but it was very windy out there and with that in mind I think I did well. I know a lot of my competitors from today will be in Rio so it was good to get that practice against them.”