MOSCOW - Usain Bolt and Sally Pearson both safely negotiated their way through qualification at the world championships on Friday as Yelena Isinbayeva backtracked over her apparent support of Russia's anti-gay law. Two-time defending world champion Bolt cruised his 200m heat in his bid for a third successive title in the event.
The 26-year-old Jamaican, who won the 200m titles in Berlin in 2009 and Daegu in 2011 and is also double Olympic champion and world record holder, eased up with fully 40 metres to run, clocking an easy-going 20.66sec. "I'm feeling good. I'm not a morning person. I worked really hard this week," said Bolt, who has been nursing a sore foot. "It's feeling better," he said. "I have worked on it for the last four days."
Australia's defending world 100m hurdles champion Pearson comfortably won her heat to advance to Saturday's semi-final alongside a strong quartet of Americans: Olympic champion Dawn Harper, Brianna Rollins, Queen Harrison and Nia Ali. "It was difficult running out there because it was half in the sun and then half in shade," said Pearson, who has struggled to regain her 2011 world title-winning form after a debilitating hamstring injury.
"I screwed up the last two hurdles," she said. "I have been dying to get started. I got great inspiration for the race watching the 4x400 boys last night." Off the track, Russian pole vault star Isinbayeva was the centre of a backlash from activists and fellow track and field legends after backing Russia's controversial new anti-gay law and saying competitors at the Sochi Winter Olympics should respect it.
Isinbayeva on Thursday came out in support of the law signed by President Vladimir Putin in June which punishes the dissemination of information about homosexuality to minors. Activists argue it could be used for a broad crackdown against gays, although Russian authorities have said all athletes will be free and safe to compete at the Winter Olympics regardless of their sexual orientation, as long as they obey Russian law.
"We just live with boys with women, women with boys," Isinbayeva had said Thursday. "We are tolerant of all existing opinions and respect all people. "But they must be respectful of our laws and not promote the ideas of non-traditional orientations on the street," she added, using the term used by Russian officials to describe homosexuality. The comments by Isinbayeva, an ambassador for both the IOC Youth Olympics and the February Winter Olympics in Sochi, drew outrage from the likes of American 400 metres legend and world record holder Michael Johnson. "She is very popular over here with a small group of people who are very powerful and who probably buy into that view in this country," Johnson said in his capacity as a BBC pundit.
"It is very flawed judgment and a very flawed opinion."
Britain's 2000 Olympic heptathlon champion Denise Lewis added: "She is clearly not in touch with the rest of the world. I'm surprised her management didn't advise her to be a little more cautious with throwing her views out there. This is clearly very damning for her as a global superstar."
Isinbayeva's management obviously did belatedly advise her, the Russian issuing a statement Friday clarifying her comments, but falling short of a full apology.
"English is not my first language and I think I may have been misunderstood when I spoke yesterday," she said. "What I wanted to say was that people should respect the laws of other countries particularly when they are guests. But let me make it clear I respect the views of my fellow athletes and let me state in the strongest terms that I am opposed to any discrimination against gay people on the grounds of their sexuality (which is against the Olympic charter)."