Bolt cruises, Americans Gatlin and Merritt also qualify for 200 semis

RIO DE JANEIRO -- World-record holder Usain Bolt did not have nearly the fastest time in the preliminary rounds of the men's 200-meter dash, but that was partly because he slowed down so much near the finish line while leading his heat that he could have been pushing a grocery cart. Plus, the heats were relatively early, starting around noon as opposed to the late-night finals.

"I was a little tired, but it was a morning session and I'm not a very good morning person,'' Bolt said. "I just came out to qualify.''

Not surprisingly, he did so, winning his heat with a time of 20.28.That was well off his world record of 19.19 as well as the day's top time of 20.09 by Canada's Andre De Grasse. It also was the 15th-fastest time of the day.

The heats are not about records, though, especially for those who are fast enough that they can be confident they will advance without running their absolute fastest race.

"It's not about time right now. It's about getting to the straightaway, holding your form and getting to the finish line,'' said Justin Gatlin, who advanced to the semifinal round with a time of 20.42. "If you think about time, that will get into your head too much.''

The scheduling of the track events has been a little odd here. The turnaround between the 100-meter semifinals and final was not much more than hour, which both Bolt and Gatlin said caused them to have slower times than they had hoped. The triple-jump final was held in the morning Tuesday, starting at 10:50 a.m., which gold medalist Christian Taylor of the U.S. said he had never experienced before.

It required early-morning starts for the Olympians.

"It's not just the run that's tiring -- it's the transportation getting to and from the athletes village to here because of the traffic,'' Gatlin said. "You can't stay up too late, but how could I not stay up to watch the women's 400 final last night? I had to make sure I watched that, and then got right back upstairs to go to bed.''

Bolt, who won his third consecutive gold in the 100 on Sunday, is the favorite in the 200, and he will try to win his third gold in the 200 as well. The semifinals of the 200 are Wednesday and the final is Thursday.

American LaShawn Merritt, who won bronze in the 400 on Sunday, also qualified for the 200 semis with a time of 20.15 (the fourth-best of the day), as did American Ameer Webb with a time of 20.31.