All eyes on Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin as sprint duel gets world championships underway

The sprint duel between Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin will get the IAAF world championships off to an explosive start when they take their rivalry onto the Beijing track in the 100 metres heats.

Usain Bolt, right, is the reigning world and Olympic champion, although Justin Gatlin, left, is the fastest man this year. Glyn Kirk / Emmanuel Dunand / AFP
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The sprint duel between Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin will get the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) world championships off to an explosive start when they take their rivalry onto the Beijing track in the 100 metres heats on Saturday.

Bolt has dominated sprinting since he claimed a golden treble at the Beijing Olympics in the Bird’s Nest stadium, winning nine of 10 individual world and Olympic sprint titles since 2008 — his sole blip being the 100m at the Daegu worlds in 2011, when he was disqualified for a false start.

America’s Gatlin is the man in form but he cuts a contentious figure after serving two doping bans, latterly between 2006 to 2010 after a positive test for testosterone.

That suspension came after he had won Olympic 100m gold in 2004 and a world sprint double in Helsinki in 2005.

Since his return, he has won 2012 world 60m indoor gold, London Olympic 100m bronze and Moscow world silver, and at 33 he is riding an unbeaten streak of 27 races dating back to August 2013.

Bolt leads the head-to-head against Gatlin 6-1, but the Jamaican insisted statistics, and the fact Gatlin was allowed to compete, were far from his thoughts.

“Competition is competition. It’s always about who’s in the best form and executes,” he said.

“Rules are the rules, he’s served his ban and he can compete. I’m not worried. I never look at statistics. It’s track and field — you never know what’s going to happen.”

Bolt, who has held the 100m and 200m world records since 2009, said he had got over pelvic joint pain that had prevented him from employing enough flex to fully drive the power out of his long legs.

Last month he roared back from that early-season setback, which saw him miss six weeks of competitive action, with back-to-back 100m times of 9.87 seconds at the London Diamond League meeting.

“I would have liked more competitive races,” Bolt said. “But training is more important than competing.”

On 100m times recorded in 2015, Bolt is ranked No 6. Gatlin tops the list with a personal best of 9.74 set in Doha in May, having also clocked 9.75 twice and 9.78.

“My body feels it’s like a 27 year old instead of a 33 year old who’s run those four years and feels tired,” Gatlin said last month. “My being away from the sport has been a gift and a curse in a way.

“For me it’s saddening I had to be away, but I’m able to have had adequate rest and sit back and see my opponents and their growth and use that to my advantage.”

Gatlin “is running very well, as far as I can see”, said Bolt’s teammate Asafa Powell, who has clocked up more sub-10-second 100m runs than any other sprinter.

The former world-record holder has misfired on the biggest stage but has looked in fine form this season.

“Definitely I’m ready to compete, that’s why I’m here,” said Powell, who is also captain of the Jamaican team. “If my best is not as good as other guys, I just have to be happy I gave my best.”

Today’s preliminary round starts at 8.40am (UAE), with the heats, which will decide the 16 men to go through to the semi-finals, taking place from 3.20pm, with the final at 5.15pm.

The other main action on the opening day sees two gold medals decided in the men’s 10,000 metres and in the men’s marathon, with the latter beginning at 3.35am.

The only final in women’s action is the shot put final, which begins at 4.05pm.