Athletics: Gatlin, Merritt head toward 200m showdown

Justin Gatlin celebrates after winning the men's 100m final during the 2016 US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials on July 3 in Eugene, Oregon.
Justin Gatlin celebrates after winning the men's 100m final during the 2016 US Olympic Track & Field Team Trials on July 3 in Eugene, Oregon. PHOTO: AFP

(REUTERS) - Justin Gatlin and LaShawn Merritt remained on course for a 200 metres final while top hurdlers Brianna Rollins and Keni Harrison put on an early speed show at the US Olympic trials on Thursday.

World silver medallist Gatlin eased through qualifying, finishing only eighth as Merritt, Walter Dix and Tyson Gay also made it through the 200 metres opening round.

Rollins beat Harrison by one hundredth of a second, clocking 12.56 seconds in the women's 100 metres qualifying.

Gatlin, already on the US team as the 100 metres trials winner, clocked 20.32 seconds to finish behind Ameer Webb (20.27 seconds) in their race on a cool, rainy afternoon.

Four hundred metre trials winner Merritt, who holds the year's fastest 200m and 400m times, was third quickest in a wind-assisted 20.09 seconds.

Dix (20.23) and Gay (20.36) moved on in wind-assisted performances in the July 1-10 trials which select the American team for the Rio Olympics.

Noah Lyles, just 18, had the day's fastest time, 20.04 seconds, but was pushed along by an assisting wind.

The 100 metres hurdles qualifying featured the year's five fastest hurdlers.

Harrison put down the gauntlet with a 12.57-second clocking and held the lead until Rollins, in the last hurdles qualifying race, overtook her time.

No one was within a tenth of a second of the two.

Harrison, who bettered Rollins' record in May, said she was a bit stiff in her preliminary.

"I didn't get out as hard as I would like to," said Harrison, one of America's rising stars.

"If I have a good start I think I could break the world record," said the 23-year-old, who missed Bulgarian Yordanka Donkova's 1988 record of 12.21 seconds by three-hundredths of a second in May.

Former Olympic champion Dawn Harper Nelson could only muster the ninth fastest qualifier, 12.85 seconds, demonstrating America's speed in the event.

World indoor champion Michelle Carter won the women's shot put (19.59 metres) and Emma Coburn won the 3,000 metres steeplechase (9:17.48).