Beijing: Jamaica's world record-holder Usain Bolt threw down the gauntlet to his 100 metres rivals here on Friday as he recorded the sixth fastest time this year in his Olympic second round heat.
The 21-year-old ran an effortless 9.92 seconds to win his heat, a faster time than the other two athletes seen as Bolt's main challengers for gold.
Former world record-holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica won his heat in a slower time of 10.02secs while America's world champion Tyson Gay only finished second in his heat.
Bolt was happy with his performance and said that he had only made a real effort over the first 50 metres.
"I just ran the first 50 metres and then I looked round to make sure I was safe and I shut it off," said Bolt. "Yes, I'm ready for my best," he added.
It was a great night for the Caribbean as all five of the heats were won by representatives from the region, backing up Jamaican Michael Frater's claim earlier on that he thought six of the area's fastest men would make it through to Saturday's final.
Gay looked like someone who hadn't raced competitively for over a month and was under pressure throughout his race, trailing in third half-way down the track before going hard to secure second behind the impressive Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago, who clocked 9.99secs.
The 26-year-old American sprinted through the press area - indeed he tried to jump over a barrier to escape the media's attention - faster than he had done on the track, but was called back by a US team official to give his version of his performance.
"I felt good and relaxed," said Gay, who has been off the Grand Prix circuit for over a month recovering from a hamstring injury.
"I'm just trying to make it through."
The first of the second round heats produced a surprise as Churandy Martina of the Dutch Antilles won in an impressive personal best of 9.99secs from 2005 world silver medallist Frater, while Japan's Naoki Tsukahara filled the third and last automatic qualifying spot.
Martina, 24, may have surprised many with his performance but it didn't surprise him. "It's pretty good but I have been working hard," he said. "I am not surprised at that (the time).
"I know I'm going to win for sure otherwise I'd be sitting at home watching it on TV," a smiling Martina added.
Thompson was joined in the semi-finals by compatriot Marc Burns, who just edged 2003 world champion Kim Collins in the slowest winning time of the heats, 10.05secs.
Burns, a two-time world finalist, was satisfied enough with his performance, but left unamused by the false start on the field's first try at getting away.
"I ran a complete race despite a slow start. It was a bit disappointing that there was another deliberate false start. I just have to run comfortably on Saturday," commented the 25-year-old.
While Bolt - who is bidding to become Jamaica's first ever 100m Olympic champion - was modesty itself, it was left to heat runner-up Darvis Patton to talk more specifically about his talent.
"The guy (Bolt) has run 9.72, 9.76, 9.80 so he's got to be good," said the 30-year-old, who has rebounded after several fallow years since winning 200m world silver in 2003.
Patton, though, insisted Bolt did not have the title in the bag. "Anybody can beat anybody on the track at any given time."