One week after opening ceremonies for the 31st Summer Olympics, the track and field portion of the 2016 Rio Games got underway on Friday with a strong start for Icon runners LaShawn Merritt and Tori Bowie in their quests for Olympic gold.
Tori got things started with her first ever Olympic race, a preliminary sprint in Heat 3 of the women’s 100-meter sprint and rolled through with ease at a time of 11.13 seconds.
Prior to her run, NBC showed a video package detailing TB’s journey to the Olympics and the close connection she has to her family, many of which have joined her in Rio for this special occasion. After the race, NBC’s Lewis Johnson asked what that meant to her.
“It’s a wonderful experience. I don’t think it would be the same without them,” she said. “We’ve been talking about the Olympics for the past two or three years. It wouldn’t be the same [if they weren’t here].”
As for the race, despite running on the outside of the field out of Lane 8, she made it look simple, surging ahead of her competitors in the middle 50 before slowing up at the end and cruising through the finish line. Tori said afterward that though the race was her first ever at the Olympics, nerves were no issue, and looked forward to the next round.
“I’m not really nervous. I’m more excited than nervous. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
Tomorrow brings the semifinals and finals of the women’s 100-meter dash, so it will be a busy day for Tori and one she hopes to finish atop the medal stand.
That’s also the goal of LaShawn Merritt, who got his quest to do as much off to a good start on Friday as well, stamping his ticket to the 400-meter semifinal with a run of 45.28 in the fifth of seven heats for the event.
Also running out of Lane 8, LaShawn got off to a great start and had a commanding lead through the first half of the race, allowing him to throw it into cruise control and coast home over the final 50, still winning his heat by half a second.
“I’m feeling good. Glad to be here,” he told NBC after the race. [Lane 8] is never easy, but I knew how to handle it. I went out, started smooth, finished up strong, cleared the field and 45.2, I’ll take that. In the first round, I’ll take that.”
The competition will be a little bit stiffer for LaShawn in the semifinals, as he will run in the same race as rival Kirani James of Grenada and 2015 IAAF World Champion Wayde van Niekirk.
The 400-meter semifinal is scheduled for 8.45 p.m. ET, sandwiched between Tori’s two races. The semifinal of the women’s 100-meter race kicks off NBC’s Olympic coverage at 8 p.m. ET and the women’s 100-meter final is scheduled for later in the evening, at shortly after 9:30 p.m. ET.