LONDON — Defending champion Usain Bolt and fellow Jamaican Yohan Blake both advanced with semifinal victories Sunday into the 100-meter final, the most anticipated race of the London Olympics.
Bolt had a lightning semifinal — out of the blocks fast enough and surging ahead by halfway before coasting to the end, looking around for challengers, to take his heat in 9.87 seconds.
Blake was also able to ease up at the end and beat Bolt’s time with .02 seconds.
Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion, won the first semifinal and had the fastest qualifying time of all, 9.82, to set up the high-powered final which will also include fellow U.S. runners Ryan Bailey and Tyson Gay. Jamaica has a trio in the finals, with Asafa Powell joining Bolt and Blake.
Bolt is seeking to become the first repeat champion since Carl Lewis in 1988, while Blake wants to add Olympic gold to the world title he already won last year.
The sprinters were racing under partly cloudy evening skies, only hours after the women’s Olympic marathon set off and finished in pouring rain. And, as unpredictable as the British weather, Ethiopia’s Tika Gelana upset the favored Kenyans.
It was the second long-distance battle the Ethiopians won over the Kenyans at the games, and just as Tirunesh Dibaba made her finishing kick count in the 10,000-meters on the track, Gelana left it until late to kick for the line.
With clenched teeth she sprinted along the glistening Mall to finish in 2 hours, 23 minutes and seven seconds, an Olympic record, leaving Priscah Jeptoo of Kenya with silver. Russian former steeplechaser Tatyana Petrova Arkhipova was the surprise bronze medalist.
Gelana found time to blow a kiss before crossing the finish line with her arms aloft and falling to the wet, red tarmac, exhausted.
“As soon as the rain started, I said to myself ‘Thank God’. I love running in the rain, I have been doing that since I was a small child,” the 24-year-old Gelana said.
Beating the Kenyans was tough enough, but she also had to overcome a fall early only, which left her with a chafed elbow.
The Kenyans instead were ill-prepared for the downpours, including Mary Keitany, who has won the London Marathon twice over the last three years to establish her as a big favorite.
“I never competed in this type of rain,” Keitany said, “not even in training.”
Buckingham Palace, Westminster, Trafalgar Square and St. Paul’s were all landmarks on the marathon route, but the true tourist attraction on Sunday was set to be the Olympic Stadium, which was to host the biggest duel of the games — Bolt vs. Blake in the 100 meters.
The Kenyans were expected to get their first gold later Sunday in the steeplechase, where is hot talk of a sweep of the medals. Other finals in the track and field program include the women’s 400 meters and triple jump and the men’s hammer throw.