Cassandra Tate

Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin set up duel; South African stretchered off after 400m gold

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Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin set up another showdown, medal standings leader Kenya earned two more gold medals and a South African won the 400m in the sixth fastest time ever and then was taken off the track on a stretcher at the World Championships on Wednesday.

The U.S. won three medals Wednesday, but no golds, giving it one gold and nine total medals through five of nine days.

Kenya leads the medal standings with six golds and 11 total, including a men’s javelin gold Wednesday, its first ever Olympic or Worlds field event medal.

The U.S. will hope to gain and surpass Kenya in the final four days, but the biggest storyline Thursday will be another Bolt-Gatlin showdown in the 200m final. It comes 10 years after their first race together in the 2005 Worlds 200m final (video here).

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Bolt, the reigning two-time Olympic and three-time World champion, won his 200m semifinal in 19.95 seconds, appearing to spend time during his race looking up at a stadium video screen and, briefly, across to the second-place finisher.

That’s the first time the Jamaican has gone sub-20 in an Olympic or Worlds 200m semifinal and his first sub-20 since he won the 2013 World Championships in 19.66.

“A bit tired,” Bolt said on the BBC, repeating what he said after the first round Tuesday.

How much is left in the tank?

“I don’t know until we see tomorrow,” he said. “My 200m is my best event. I live for this. … I know I’m going to do well. It’s not even a question. … I’m not going to lose my favorite event.”

A few minutes earlier, Gatlin clocked 19.87, the fastest time of all the semifinalists. Gatlin came into Worlds having clocked 19.57, 19.68, 19.68 and 19.71 since the start of 2014, the four fastest times in the world in that span.

On Sunday, Bolt beat Gatlin by .01 in the 100m final in a time slower than Gatlin’s semifinal clocking earlier that night. Gatlin struggled to keep his form in the last several meters of the final, costing him gold.

Is Gatlin, after tearing up following the 100m final, ready to face Bolt again?

“Of course, ready for a matchup with anybody,” Gatlin told Lewis Johnson on Universal Sports.

Thursday’s final will not include Olympic bronze medalist and 2013 Worlds silver medalist Warren Weir, who failed to advance out of the semifinals.

Later Wednesday, South African Wayde van Niekerk won the 400m in 43.48 seconds, a time that would have beaten Michael Johnson at the 1996 Olympics. Johnson set the world record of 43.18 on this date 16 years ago.

Van Niekerk was taken off the track on a stretcher later after minutes of celebrating around the Bird’s Nest. He went to a hospital as a precaution, according to the BBC.

The 2013 World champion LaShawn Merritt finished second in a personal best in 43.65, followed by Grenada Olympic champion Kirani James in 43.78. It marked the first time three men went sub-44 in a 400m race.

Merritt earned his 10th career Worlds medal, matching Carl Lewis and Allyson Felix for the most in U.S. history. Felix can win her 11th in the women’s 400m final Thursday.

Earlier, the Czech Republic’s Zuzana Hejnova became the first woman to repeat as World champion in the 400m hurdles, prevailing in 53.50, the fastest time in the world this year.

“It’s very hard to be favorite, and I was very nervous before the final,” Hejnova said on the BBC.

Americans Shamier Little (53.94) and Cassandra Tate (54.02) won silver and bronze in their global championship debuts. Little, who had the fastest time in the world coming into Beijing, was in tears Monday after squeaking into the final in the eighth and last spot.

“Yesterday I was saying I deserved to be here,” Little, 20, told Johnson on Universal Sports. “I showed that today.”

U.S. Olympic champion Jenn Suhr tied for fourth in the pole vault, failing to clear 4.80 meters. Suhr also failed to clear 4.80 at the 2012 Olympics in poorer weather conditions in London. Cuban Yarisley Silva cleared 4.90 meters on her third and final attempt to take gold after 2012 Olympic silver and 2013 Worlds bronze.

Julius Yego won the javelin, becoming the first Kenyan to earn an Olympic or Worlds medal in a field event. Yego threw 92.72 meters, the farthest in the world since 2001. Yego, who learned the javelin by watching YouTube videos, is now the third best javelin thrower of all time.

Kenya’s Hyvin Jepkemoi won the women’s 3000m steeplechase (video here), while American Emma Coburn dropped to fifth after being in second place on the final lap. Coburn hoped to become the first U.S. woman to win an Olympic or Worlds steeplechase medal.

Two-time Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown advanced to the 200m semifinals despite shifting into the lane to her outside coming around the curve of the race, as she did at the 2005 World Championships. Campbell-Brown would have been disqualified if she impeded the runner in that lane.

Neither the Olympic champion Felix nor 2013 World champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce are competing in the 200m at Worlds. Fraser-Pryce won the 100m on Monday. Felix was the fastest qualifier into Thursday’s 400m final.

Hammer thrower briefly leaves World Championships gold medal in taxi