Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin breeze into Worlds 100m semifinals; Farah golden again

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Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin took their first strides toward a 100m final showdown at the World Championships in Beijing, easily winning their heats Saturday to reach Sunday’s semifinals.

Great Britain’s Mo Farah won his second straight 10,000m World title. Michelle Carter captured bronze in the shot put for the first U.S. medal on the opening day of the meet.

Bolt won his opening round sprint in 9.96 seconds, easing up as he crossed the finish line. Earlier, Gatlin took his heat in 9.83 seconds, relaxing through the finish (full Saturday results here).

“Overall, it was good, I didn’t really use much stress,” Bolt said on the BBC, adding later that he’s definitely in the physical shape to run 9.6 seconds.

Bolt, whose world record from 2009 is 9.58, appears beatable after dealing with injuries since the start of 2013. His best time since September 2013 is 9.87 seconds. Bolt’s only defeat in five career Olympic/World Championships 100m was in 2011, when he was disqualified for a false start in the final.

Gatlin, five years removed from a four-year doping ban, has run 9.80 or faster six times since the start of 2013. No other man in the world has clocked 9.80 or faster once in that span.

“My coach said go out there, execute the first 40, 45 meters,” Gatlin told media in Beijing. “That’s what I did. After that, he literally says go out there and do what you want to do.”

Bolt and Gatlin will next race in the semifinals Sunday (7:10 a.m. ET) and, if they advance, the eight-man final later Sunday (9:15 a.m.). The other top medal contenders — Jamaican Asafa Powell, American record holder Tyson Gay and rising Baylor junior Trayvon Bromell — also advanced in 9.95, 10.11 and 9.91, respectively. Gay said he’s had hip issues since his last race in Monaco on July 17.

NBC and NBC Sports Live Extra will have World Championships coverage Saturday from 3-4:30 p.m. ET and on Sunday from 1-2:30 p.m. ET.

World Championships: Men’s events to watch | Women’s events | Broadcast schedule

Also Saturday, Great Britain’s Mo Farah emerged from a five-man leading group in the final lap of 25 to prevail in the 10,000m in 27:01.13. Farah also won the 10,000m at the 2012 Olympics and 2013 World Championships.

Kenyan Geoffrey Kamworor, who clipped Farah from behind with about 300 meters to go, took silver, .63 behind. Another Kenyan, Paul Tanui, earned bronze. U.S. Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp was fifth after finishing fourth at the 2013 Worlds.

“There was three or four times where I nearly went down,” Farah said on the BBC. “I don’t know if [other runners were] deliberately trying to take me out.”

Farah can try for his third straight World Championships or Olympic sweep of the 5000m and 10,000m in the 5000m final next Saturday.

“Hopefully it didn’t take too much out of me,” Farah said on the BBC. “It’s just a matter now of recovering.”

Earlier, Great Britain’s Jessica Ennis-Hill took the heptathlon lead through four of seven events in her first global championship since she won the 2012 Olympic title and gave birth to baby boy Reggie on July 17, 2014.

Ennis-Hill tallied 4,005 points, 80 more than countrywoman Katarina Johnson-Thompson. Canadian Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the world leader this year coming into Worlds, is fourth with 3,865 points. Ennis-Hill had 4,158 points through four of seven events en route to her Olympic gold in London.

The final three heptathlon events are Sunday.

Michelle Carter, the daughter of 1984 Olympic shot put silver medalist and former San Francisco 49ers nose tackle Michael Carter, won the first U.S. medal of Worlds, bronze in the women’s shot put. German Christina Schwanitz took gold, followed by China’s Gong Lijiao getting silver.

On Saturday morning, all medal contenders in the women’s 1500m advanced to Sunday’s semifinals, including Ethiopian world record holder Genzebe Dibaba, American record holder Shannon Rowbury and 2011 World champion Jenny Simpson.

Evan Jager began his quest to become the first American to win a Worlds 3000m steeplechase medal, advancing to Monday’s final with the top Kenyans, including two-time Olympic champion Ezekiel Kemboi.

Kenyan Olympic champion and world-record holder David Rudisha reached Sunday’s 800m semifinals, along with fellow medal favorites Nijel Amos of Botswana and Mohammed Aman of Ethiopia.

Bershawn Jackson, the fastest man in the 400m hurdles this year, failed to advance to Sunday’s semifinals, finishing in seventh place in his first-round heat. Jackson said he had a hamstring injury.

Historic upset in men’s marathon

Regan Smith swims another historic backstroke time at Pro Series meet

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Regan Smith, who last summer broke both backstroke world records, put up the fastest 100m back in history outside of a major international meet or trials competition on Saturday.

Smith, a 17-year-old Minnesota high school senior, clocked 58.26 seconds to win at a Pro Series meet in Knoxville, Tenn. It tied for the 12th-fastest time in history. None of the other fastest dozen came in January, six months out from when swimmers peak for the world’s biggest events like the Olympics.

Making it more impressive: Smith did it 27 minutes after finishing second in the 200m butterfly, which she’s also expected to contest at June’s Olympic trials in Omaha.

“It actually wasn’t as bad, as I was nervous it was going to be,” Smith, whose world record is 57.57, said of the double on NBCSN. Smith entered two events per day at the three-day Knoxville meet, in part to prepare for the trials, where she is slated to race six straight days in a bid to make the Olympic team in enough events to swim eight straight days in Tokyo.

On Saturday, Smith held off fellow 17-year-old Phoebe Bacon by six tenths. Bacon beat Smith at the U.S. Open in December, posting the second-fastest time among Americans in the event for 2019.

The teen emergence puts pressure on Kathleen Baker, the Rio Olympic silver medalist who had the world record before Smith took it at worlds.

Full Knoxville results are here. USASwimming.org live streams the last night of finals Sunday at 6:30 ET.

In other events Saturday, world silver medalist Hali Flickinger overcame Smith in the 200m fly, winning in 2:08.34. Smith, third-fastest among Americans last season, was .39 behind. The second-fastest American last year, Katie Drabot, was not in the field. The top two at trials make the Olympic team.

Erika Brown beat world champion Simone Manuel in a freestyle sprint for a second straight meet, taking the 50m free in 24.57 seconds.

Brown, a University of Tennessee senior, edged Manuel by .06 and took .01 off her personal best. Brown ranked third among Americans last year behind Manuel (24.05) and Abbey Weitzeil (24.47).

Brown also defeated Manuel in the 100m free at the U.S. Open in December, moving to fourth-fastest in the U.S. last year in that event. The top six in the 100m free at trials are in line to make the Olympic team, given relay spots.

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Mikaela Shiffrin nearly makes it three-way tie for World Cup win

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Mikaela Shiffrin came .01 shy of making it a three-way tie for a World Cup giant slalom win on Saturday, confirming GS has been the most up-for-grabs discipline for either gender in recent years.

Shiffrin, beaten in her last two slaloms, had the fastest second run to place third behind co-winners Italian Federica Brignone and Slovakian Petra Vlhova in Sestriere, Italy. The reigning Olympic and World Cup champion in the GS rallied from fourth place and .42 behind after the first run.

Shiffrin still leads the World Cup overall standings by 233 points over Vlhova. The American last won Dec. 29. Though she made the podium in three of her four races since, Shiffrin expressed a lack of confidence heading into this weekend’s races at the 2006 Olympic venue.

“The most exciting thing for me is that people have stopped asking me, like, are you unbeatable?” said Shiffrin, who won a record 17 World Cup races last season and has four victories nearly halfway through this season, tied with Vlhova for most on tour. “I feel really good in GS. It’s just been a long time since [the last GS on Dec. 28].”

Vlhova earned her third victory this month after beating Shiffrin those last two slaloms. Brignone leads the GS season standings by 61 points over Shiffrin, seeking to become the sixth different woman to win that discipline title in the last six years. There are four more GS races left this season.

It’s the second straight season with a World Cup GS tie. Last Feb. 1, Shiffrin and Vlhova tied in Maribor, Slovenia.

It’s the first time the top three finishers were separated by such a small margin since the last three-way tie for a win in 2006, when Lindsey VonnMichaela Dorfmeister and Nadia Styger had the same super-G time, and fourth-place Kelly VanderBeek was .01 behind.

“Last season, I had the lucky side of the hundredths many times, so sometimes I’m not going to be on the lucky side, too,” said Shiffrin, who had three victories by .16 or tighter last season.

World Cup racing continues with a parallel giant slalom on Sunday at 5:45 a.m. ET on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and streaming on NBC Sports Gold.

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