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U.S. sprinters expect to see Usain Bolt in Rio

News of Usain Bolt’s torn hamstring spread among runners at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials as fast as the lanky Jamaican ran in sweeping the 100- and 200-meter sprints at the Beijing and London Olympics. U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay on Saturday offered get-well wishes to Bolt, who withdrew from the Jamaican trials and requested a medical exemption onto his country’s Rio Olympic squad, but Americans are sure they haven’t seen the last of Bolt just yet.

“It’s a tradition, 2012, last year,” Gay said of Bolt’s pattern of proclaiming he’s injured before dominating at major meets. “If there’s a problem, I know he can come back strong.”

Gay’s wind-aided time of 9.97 seconds in the first heat of the men’s 100-meter dash at Hayward Field was the third-fastest overall, behind Trayvon Bromell’s wind-legal 9.94 and Christian Coleman’s wind-aided 9.96. Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic 100-meter gold medalist and 2012 bronze medalist, ran an easy 10.03. He also believes Bolt will be a force in Rio.

“It’s an Olympic year, man. Crazy stuff always happens during an Olympic year,” Gatlin said. “I think that’s just a mystery in the air about the Olympics. It’s full of dreams and sometimes dreams don’t come true. He’s Usain, so we’re going to see his face in Rio one way or another.”

Bolt had a back injury before the London Olympics and had a leg injury before last year’s World Championships but won, anyway.

“When you command a certain power in track and field sometimes you’re going to exercise it. I think that’s what’s happening right now,” Gatlin said. “He’s injured, gets a medical pass, that’s what his country does. Our country doesn’t do that. You’ve got to come to the line, you’ve got to come ready. If you’re not ready that day, you’re just not on that boat to get to that next destination, which is the Olympic Games.”

A medical exemption would have benefited 2012 Olympic 200-meter champion Allyson Felix, who’s still recovering from the ankle injury she suffered in April. She looked better in running a 50.31 in Saturday’s 400-meter semifinal than she had in Friday’s first round, but she labored.

“It’s difficult not to feel like me,” she said. “I’m just trying to grit it through, honestly. It’s not 100%t, but I’m fighting. I think I’ve gotten used to the pain somewhat so it’s manageable, but it doesn’t feel good.”

The 400-meter final will be Sunday. The first round of the 200 is next Friday, giving her time to rest; she said she still plans to compete in the 200, but that could change. Francena McCorory had the top 400-meter semifinal time Saturday, 50.28 seconds.

Brittney Reese, the London long jump gold medalist, appeared in good shape to repeat after breaking Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s 1988 Olympic trials record with a leap of 7.31 meters (23 feet, 11 ¾ inches). It’s the longest jump in the world this year. “I look up to her. She’s a mentor to me,” Reese said. “To break a record of hers means a lot. She just told me I have a lot more left in me.”

Molly Huddle earned a Rio berth by winning the women’s 10,000 in 31 minutes 41.62 seconds, handily outrunning Emily Infeld (31:46.09) and Marielle Hall (31:54.77). Huddle, who celebrated an apparent bronze medal too soon at last year’s world championships and lost third place to Infeld, was subdued but smiling at the finish Saturday. “I was relieved. I didn’t want any disasters to happen,” she said.

Whitney Ashley of Moreno Valley and San Diego State won the discus with a toss of 62.25 meters (204 feet 2 inches) on her fifth throw. She will be joined in Rio by Shelbi Vaughan of Texas A&M and Kelsey Card of Wisconsin. “Exciting, overwhelming,” said Ashley, a former shotput competitor.

London decathlon gold medalist Ashton Eaton, performing before a hometown crowd, took the lead halfway through the event with 4,561 points, to 4,478 for Jeremy Taiwo and 4,411 for Zach Ziemek. Eaton was first in the 100, long jump and 400, seventh in the shotput and fifth in the high jump.

Brenda Martinez of Big Bear Lake advanced to the women’s 800-meter finals with a semifinal time of 1:59.64. Alysia Montano also advanced with a time of 2:00.20. “I feel like this round was the most nervous,” Martinez said. “I’m going to expect a fast time in the final so I’ll be ready for that.” Boris Berian, who also trains at Big Bear Lake, had the top time in the men’s 800 semifinals, 1:45.72.

Etc.

Los Angeles-based English Gardner had the second-fastest time in the first round of the women’s 100, 10.90, behind Jenna Prandini’s 10.81. The semifinals are Sunday…. Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 gold medalist at 400 meters, cramped in his semifinal Saturday and didn’t finish. Tony McQuay had the top time, 44.24…. American record holder Brad Walker no-heighted in the pole vault and didn’t advance. Eight men cleared 5.55 meters (18-2 ½)…. Jeffrey Henderson led men’s long jump qualifying with a leap of 8.22 meters (26-11 ¾).  

helene.elliott@latimes.com

Twitter: @helenenothelen

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