DOHA (Reuters) - Christian Coleman posted the top time in the men’s 100 meters heats in the air-conditioned comfort of Khalifa Stadium at the world championships on Friday but there will be no such relief on Doha’s streets as the women prepare for a midnight marathon.
The opening day of the 10-day event began with the governing International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) issuing a statement that the marathon would go ahead despite concerns over extreme heat and athlete welfare.
The first gold medal of the meeting is up for grabs as the women tackle a steamy 26.2 miles (42.195 km) floodlit course along the waterfront of Doha’s famous Corniche promenade.
The race will begin one minute before midnight on Friday and finish in the early hours of Saturday amid concerns that only a handful of the almost 70 starters will reach the finish line.
There were no such worries inside Khalifa stadium where the opening round of the blue riband men’s 100m began in front of a partially filled stadium that had all of the upper tiers covered in signage and only the lower bowl open to spectators.
It marked the first time since 2003 that world record holder Usain Bolt was not settling into the starting blocks at the championships and the charismatic Jamaican’s absence could be felt by a lack of excitement in the chilled air.
American Coleman, silver medalist in 2017 and owner of the fastest time this season, put down his gold marker by breezing to a time of 9.98 seconds to set the pace in the opening round.
It was a focused start for Coleman who just weeks ago was in danger of missing the worlds when the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) filed - and later withdrew - a whereabouts violations charge that could have resulted in a one or two-year sanction.
“It felt good,” said 23-year-old Coleman, who was nearly as fast going through the media mixed zone, where reporters gather to speak to the athletes, as he was on the track.
South African Akani Simbine was second best overall in 10.01 ahead of 37-year-old American Justin Gatlin, who opened the defense of his 100m crown by winning his heat in 10.06.
With Bolt retired, his old running mate and 2011 world champion Yohan Blake carried Jamaica’s colors into the next round, crossing first in his heat in 10.07 for the fourth best time.
The title of world’s fastest man will be decided on Saturday.
The opening round of the women’s 800 meters also began without the event’s biggest name, double Olympic champion Caster Semenya, who has been locked in a battle over her testosterone levels with the athletics authorities.
The South African will not defend her world title after a Swiss Federal Tribunal reversed a ruling that temporarily lifted testosterone regulations imposed on her.
With Semenya ruled out, the gold is on offer and Uganda’s Winnie Nanyondo will be among the contenders after posting the top time of the opening round (2:00.36) followed by Jamaica’s Pan Am Games champion Natoya Goule (2:01.01).
“I just know that I have more chance now to be able to get a medal,” said Goule when asked about Semenya’s absence. “I’m definitely working towards that at these championships and taking it round by round.”
Additonal reporting Gene Cherry and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber. Editing by Ken Ferris