Bucking a slight headwind, Gay, a former University of Arkansas star, ran 9.85 seconds, Atkins 9.91 and Powell - who is the world record-holder at 9.77 - a subpar 9.96.
"I was saying to myself basically that I'm the fastest in the world," Gay said. "I was ordering my steps, running through the race. I was thanking God win or lose before the race even started."
James Carter, a Mervo graduate, gets his chance to bask in the Nagai spotlight tomorrow night.
A 48.30 second-place performance in the first of three semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles last night put Carter in position to bid for his first major international gold medal. His race went to Poland's unsung - and unseen by Carter and the others in the middle of the track - Marek Plawgo, running 48.18 out of the far-outside lane nine.
Carter isn't worried about finishing second.
"I just didn't see him [Plawgo] until it was too late," Carter said.
"I made some mistakes in this one, but I won't make any mistakes in that final; I've been around this sport too long to let that happen."
The semis saw the top two in each section and the fastest two losers advance to the eight-man final. Three of the four American entries made the grade - Derrick Williams (48.43) and Kerron Clement (48.60) along with Carter - but teammate Bershawn Jackson, the 2005 world champion, bowed out.
Hitting a barrier and stumbling, Jackson failed to advance with his 48.95.
Right behind Carter in their semifinal duel were Jamaica's Danny McFarlane, the former University of Oklahoma runner who took the silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics (48.32), and Williams (48.43).
Also in the hunt will be Felix Sanchez, the former Southern California athlete who won the gold medal in Athens for the Dominican Republic and won his semifinal in 48.35.
It was a tough morning in the shot put ring for Cleopatra Borel-Brown, the former UMBC star competing for Trinidad. Borel-Brown, the only Retrievers athlete ever to win an NCAA track and field title, heaved the four-kilogram steel ball 17.29 meters in the qualifying round, but it took a toss of at least 18.19 to advance to the final last night.
Brown outperformed two of the three American entries, including Jillian Camarena, a four-time American champion.
New Zealand's Valerie Vili was the surprise leader of the 28-athlete field in the preliminaries and won the final in the night session with a sixth-round throw of 20.54 meters, best in the world this year.