Justin Gatlin ran 9.90 seconds in the rain to set the 100-meter qualifying pace at the US Olympic Track and Field Trials, sending a message to global foes that he is ready for battle.
"I hope so, running in these conditions," Gatlin said on Saturday. "A true warrior will go out there and battle in this situation. It defines warriors how well you get up for this."
Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion, was unable to defend his title at the 2008 Beijing Olympics while serving a four-year doping ban. But he has returned to the top of the US sprint list and said his run was a warning for London.
"We're going to go down there and take on the Jamaicans and anybody else who stands in our way," Gatlin said.
With a tailwind of 1.7m/sec, Gatlin won his heat to lead 21 runners into the semi-finals with Tyson Gay, coming off hip surgery and only one race in the past year, second overall at 10.00 to win his heat with a 1.6m/sec tailwind.
"It felt pretty good," Gay said. "I was a little nervous at the start. I had a nice start. All in all I feel pretty good."
Competitors will face a semi-final round early Sunday to determine the finalists who will race for berths at the London Olympics later in the day. Only the top three finishers will qualify for London in the event.
Walter Dix, third in the 100 and 200 at the 2008 Olympics and second in both events at last year's world championships in South Korea, won his heat in 10.03 (0.7m/sec) to stand fourth overall among those who advanced.
Gatlin said his run was emotional after his doping ban forced him to watch the US trials on television four years ago when he could have been working to defend his 2004 Athens gold.
"It was good," Gatlin said. "I just wanted to get the emotions out. I had a good transition and strong finish. Just ran well and got ready for tomorrow."
Gatlin was off his season best of 9.87 from a victory last month in Doha but considering the conditions and his training, he hopes for better things when his Olympic bid faces its moment of truth.
"I have been working hard at home, tweaking stuff from start to finish," Gatlin said. "One step at a time. I want to make more history in the semis. The main thing is to run a good race there and make it to the final."
Gay, the 2007 world champion, ended a two-year win streak by world record-holder and reigning Olympic champion Usain Bolt of Jamaica, but hip surgery after last year's US championships has made him a question mark this week.
Gay's only race in the past 12 months came two weeks ago when he also ran 10.00, that into a stiff headwind at a Diamond League event in New York.
"Very relaxed. The idea was just to get through this one," said Gay's coach, retired US sprinter Jon Drummond.