Usain Bolt appears to be rounding into form. Just in time, too.
The Jamaican clocked 9.87 seconds in two 100m races in a little over an hour at a Diamond League meet in London on Friday night, on a rain-soaked track and into a headwind.
“Overall, it was a good run, but the start was really poor,” Bolt said on the BBC of his final win into a 0.8 m/s headwind (video here). “My coach keeps telling me, relax and it flow. But I really wanted to run faster.”
Bolt showed medal-worthy form for the first time since 2013.
His performances — an hour before the final, Bolt won his preliminary heat in 9.87 into a 1.2m/s headwind (video here) — upped anticipation for a showdown with American Justin Gatlin at the World Championships in Beijing (Aug. 22-30, broadcast info here).
“If I just continue to work on my start, I’ll be fine,” Bolt said on the BBC. “I feel better. I just need to work on a few more things, get consistent, and I should be OK.”
Bolt’s victory Friday came against a field that did not include Gatlin (who has run 9.74 this year) or Worlds medal contenders Tyson Gay (9.87) and Asafa Powell (9.81). American Mike Rodgers was second to Bolt in 9.90.
“I got near him,” Rodgers said, according to the Diamond League. “He just pulled away in the last few meters.”
Here are full results from London. The London meet concludes Saturday.
Before Friday, Bolt’s best time in the 100m since Sept. 6, 2013, was 9.98 seconds. He had only raced over 100m three times in that span, his 2014 season cut short by March foot surgery and pulling out of meets earlier this month citing a leg injury.
Gatlin, 33 and five years removed from a four-year doping ban, has clocked 9.80 or faster six times since Sept. 6, 2013.
Gatlin, who ran a personal-best 9.74 on May 15, was the unquestioned World Championships favorite in the 100m and 200m going into Friday.
That’s partly because Bolt hadn’t raced since June 13, when he ran his slowest 200m final time in nine years, and then flew to Munich to see a doctor in those six weeks off.
Bolt stayed his no-worries self in interviews before the London meet. He’s always said that he knows how to prepare for a global championship, citing 2012, when Yohan Blake beat him at the Jamaican Olympic trials but was no match for Bolt at the London Games.
Bolt and Gatlin haven’t raced against each other since 2013 and are unlikely to do so until the World Championships in August. Bolt hasn’t been beaten in a Worlds or Olympic final since 2007 (not counting false starts).
Can he beat Gatlin?
“Without a doubt,” Bolt told reporters after his races.
Usain Bolt: Justin Gatlin won’t break my world record
In other events Friday, British Olympic heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis-Hill clocked 12.79 seconds to finish fifth in the 100m hurdles, her best time in the event since the 2012 Olympics. American Jasmin Stowers won in 12.47, though Stowers last month failed to qualify for the World Championships.
Ennis-Hill, coming back this season after having a baby, has said she will decide after this meet if she will compete at the World Championships. She was quite pleased with Friday’s race on a wet track, ahead of a 200m and the long jump Saturday.
“I’m finally finding my form in the right part of the season,” Ennis-Hill said on the BBC.
British Olympic and World 5000m and 10,000m champion Mo Farah won a 3000m in 7:34.66 to cap the night. It’s the fastest time in the world this year in the non-Olympic event. Farah has said he will race the 10,000m at Worlds but hasn’t decided if he will race the 5000m.
The 2009 World champion Jason Richardson won the 110m hurdles in 13.19 over a field that included Olympic champion and world-record holder Aries Merritt (fourth, 13.32) and the world’s fastest man this year, Cuban Orlando Ortega (fifth, 13.32). Richardson, like Stowers, did not qualify for the U.S. team for the World Championships.
Great Britain’s Zharnel Hughes, who has trained with Bolt, won the 200m in 20.05 into a -1.4m/s headwind. The field was lacking Worlds medal favorites Bolt and Gatlin. Hughes, 20, ranks tied for 13th in the world this year in the 200m.
Natasha Hastings upset world leader Francena McCorory in the 400m, 50.24 to 50.67. Hastings finished second at the U.S. Championships to Allyson Felix, who may decide not to run the 400m at Worlds.
If Felix drops the event, McCorory would presumably get her spot as McCorory finished fourth at the U.S. Championships. McCorory has the world’s three fastest times this year.
Czech Zuzana Hejnova took the 400m hurdles in 53.99. Hejnova, the 2013 World champion, ranks No. 2 in the world this year behind NCAA champion Shamier Little of the U.S.
Video: Usain Bolt talks Rio 2016, retirement, celebrities with Ato Boldon