ATHENS, Greece - Ato Boldon blazed to the fastest time of the world this year in the 100 meters in a heat at the World Championships on Saturday night, setting the stage for a possible world record in today's final.
Boldon was clocked in 9.87 seconds as he edged training partner Maurice Greene in the fastest second-round heat ever. Boldon also equaled Linford Christie for the fifth fastest 100 of all-time.
"I'll send the message tomorrow night as to who'll be the world's fastest human," Boldon declared, repeating his prediction that Donovan Bailey's year-old world record of 9.84 seconds will be broken in the final.
Bailey pulled up in pain at the end of his second-round heat, apparently favoring his left calf. The Canadian finished second in 10.10 seconds behind American Tim Montgomery, who won in 9.99.
The extent of Bailey's ailment wasn't immediately clear. He didn't speak to reporters after the race.
Boldon, in lane three, stumbled slightly out of the blocks but showed tremendous acceleration as he surged down the track. He even slowed slightly just before the finish line as he looked to his left at the hard-charging Greene in lane one.
"I probably ran faster than I wanted, but I don't think it took that much out of me," Boldon said. "I don't want to run this fast tomorrow until the final. I want to save my best for the final."
Boldon, of Trinidad and Tobago, and Greene, the new U.S. national champion, train together under John Smith at UCLA. They sought each other out immediately after the heat and embraced.
"He wanted to beat me as badly as I wanted to beat him," Boldon said. "This track is lighting fast. It didn't feel that fast. I thought it was 9.95. My dream is to go under 9.8."
It was the third time this year that Greene has run 9.90.
"It's just another race," he said. "What counts is tomorrow. I know how fit I am and how fast I can run. That was very easy for me."
Namibia's Frankie Fredericks, the Olympic silver medalist, showed he also will be a title threat as he cruised to victory in his heat in 9.99. The other top contender, American Mike Marsh, easily took his heat in 10.05.
In the men's 400-meter hurdles, new U.S. champion Bryan Bronson coasted to the fastest time of the first-round heats in 48.84 to reaffirm his status as gold medal favorite. Defending champion Derrick Adkins ran only 49.23, while 1991 champ Samuel Matete was clocked in 48.43.
Earlier, four former world champions, two world record-holders and a gold-medal favorite were among the early casualties in Saturday's opening session.
In the first 21/2 hours of competition, the championships lost defending champions Inessa Kravets (women's triple jump), Hassiba Boulmerka (women's 1,500 meters) and Andrei Abduvalyev (hammer), 1993 titlist Anna Biryukova (triple jump), world record-holder Randy Barnes (shot put) and 1,500-meter favorite Kelly Holmes.
Kravets, who is also Olympic champion and world record-holder, and Boulmerka, the 1992 Olympic champion and two-time world titlist, were unexplained no-shows for their events.
Biryukova was carried off on a stretcher after rupturing a tendon in her right knee, Barnes and Abdulvayev failed to qualify for their finals and Holmes pulled up injured during the 1,500 heats.
Holmes limped alone, head bowed, down the finishing straight. She broke into tears once she reached the tunnel, where she was put onto a stretcher and taken away for treatment.
Holmes, the fastest woman in the world this year in the 1,500, said she had been suffering from an inflammation of her left Achilles tendon and that her calf muscle tightened up during the race.
"It felt like a golf ball," she said. "I just feel like somebody put a curse on me, and I want them to take it off."
Holmes, who had planned to double in the 800, said she was pulling out of that event but hoped to be ready to return to action in Zurich later this month.