Gil Roberts made his Olympics debut a satisfactory one. So did Bralon Taplin.
Roberts, the former Texas Tech star, finished second in the first heat, and Taplin, the former South Plains College standout, finished first in the second heat of the men’s 400 meters Friday night in Rio de Janeiro. It was round one of three at the Olympics.
Roberts pushed the early pace like always and had the lead, slipped to third place after 300 meters and closed well to get up for second. His time was 45.27 seconds. Machel Cedenio from Trinidad & Tobago won in 44.98.
“I felt great,” Roberts told usatf.org. “The first round is generally the toughest one. You never know what to expect, whether to go hard or go easy. You have to go as easy as you can, but still get a qualifier. You never know what everyone else is going to do.
“In a final, you know what to expect. Everyone is all out. You know what everyone is going to do. In prelims, some people go all out, some people are saving. It’s a judgment game.”
Taplin had an easy run. Four years after he won an NJCAA 400-meter championship running out of Levelland, Taplin had enough lead to ease up the last 10 meters or so and conserve energy for the next round.
That comes up Saturday. Roberts, in lane 4, and Taplin, in lane 6, will run in the same semifinals race at 6:44 p.m. CDT.
Roberts said he came out of Friday’s race feeling fine.
“I have more in the tank, lots more,” he said. “I got in relatively smooth, relatively easy, so I’m happy about that. I lived to see another day.”
Taplin won the second of seven heats in 45.15. The 24-year-old sports the red, green and gold of his native Grenada, though he’s a longtime Texan. He won a UIL Class 5A state title in 2010 for Round Rock Stony Point, finished runner-up and then first in the NJCAA the next two years for South Plains and then was an all-American for Texas A&M.
Roberts has won U.S. 400 titles indoors (2012) and outdoors (2014), plus a World Championships gold medal anchoring the U.S. men’s 1,600 relay four years ago in Istanbul. But he made the Olympics for the first time at age 27 by taking second at the trials in Eugene, Oregon.
Roberts and Taplin both are overshadowed with the last two Olympic 400-meter champions on their own teams. Grenada’s Kirani James won the gold medal four years ago in London, and U.S. star LaShawn Merritt won the event in 2008 at Beijing.
James and Merritt also won their first-round races with no trouble, Merritt going 45.28 and James 44.93.
Merritt said he wants “to lay it all out in the final” and try to make it through the early rounds while saving energy.
“It’s definitely one of the top events right now,” he said. “We’re running well. There’s some men out there running. I’m just excited to be a part of it, to be a part of a great event, during a great era. We’ll probably run fast come this final.”
Among the other heat winners were London bronze medalist Lalonde Gordon (45.24) from Trinidad & Tobago and defending world champion Wayde van Niekirk (45.26) from South Africa.
RIO OLYMPICS TRACK & FIELD
Area athletes’ schedules
All Times CDT
Note: An “x” means an athlete must have advanced through previous round.
100 meters, preliminaries: Shavez Hart (South Plains, Bahamas), 7:30 a.m.
100 meters, first round: x-Shavez Hart (South Plains, Bahamas), 10 a.m.
400 meters, semifinals: Gil Roberts (Texas Tech, U.S.), Bralon Taplin (South Plains, Grenada), 6:30 p.m.
High jump, qualifying: Bradley Adkins (Texas Tech, U.S.), 6:30 p.m.
100 meters, semifinals: x-Shavez Hart (South Plains, Bahamas), 7 p.m.
400 meters, finals: x-Gil Roberts (Texas Tech, U.S.), x-Bralon Taplin (South Plains, Grenada), 8 p.m.
100 meters, finals: x-Shavez Hart (South Plains, Bahamas), 8:25 p.m.
400-meter hurdles, first round: Janeil Bellille (South Plains, Trinidad & Tobago), Sparkle McKnight (South Plains, Trinidad & Tobago), 7:30 p.m.
200 meters, first round: Shavez Hart (South Plains, Bahamas), 9:50 a.m.
High jump, finals: x-Bradley Adkins (Texas Tech, U.S.), 6:30 p.m.
400-meter hurdles, semifinals: x-Janeil Bellille (South Plains, Trinidad & Tobago), x-Sparkle McKnight (South Plains, Trinidad & Tobago), 7:10 p.m.
5,000 meters, first round: Kemoy Campbell (South Plains, Jamaica), 8:05 a.m.
800 meters, first round: Natoya Goule (South Plains, Jamaica), 8:55 a.m.
200 meters, semifinals: x-Shavez Hart (South Plains, Bahamas), 8 p.m.
800 meters, semifinals: x-Natoya Goule (South Plains, Jamaica), 7:15 p.m.
400-meter hurdles, finals: x-Janeil Bellille (South Plains, Trinidad & Tobago), x-Sparkle McKnight (South Plains, Trinidad & Tobago), 8:15 p.m.
200 meters, finals: x-Shavez Hart (South Plains, Bahamas), 8:30 p.m.