Bolt, who beat Gatlin when they clashed for the first time this year in the 100 metres final, looked relaxed and took time to chat with a fellow competitor as he approached the line to win his heat with his first sub-20 second time of the year.
The 29-year-old, unbeaten in his favourite event at a major global championships since he won 200 metres gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said he still had something left in the tank for Thursday’s final after clocking 19.95 seconds.
“Bit tired, as expected,” the world record holder said. “Just trying to get as much rest as possible and trying to get through these rounds. Right now I’m feeling okay. I didn’t run a hard corner. I ran maybe 90 percent.”
Gatlin already ran the third fastest time of the year in 19.87 seconds to win the second heat, however, getting off to a blistering start and able to ease up slightly in the last few metres before crossing the line.
The 33-year-old American, who has lost five years of his career to doping bans, is unbeaten in the half-lap event since 2013.
Anguilla-born Briton Zharnel Hughes pipped Nickel Ashmeade on the line to win a close first heat in 20.14 to reach his first global sprint final along with the Jamaican (20.19).
Panama’s Alonso Edward finished second behind Gatlin in 20.02 to qualify, while Femi Ogunode (20.05), another sprinter who has served a doping ban, went through as one of the fastest finishers outside the top two in each heat with a Qatari national record.
South African Anasco Jobodwana finished second chatting to Bolt in a personal best time of 20.01, while Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev ran 20.10 to complete the lineup of runners who will try and stop the Jamaican from winning a fourth straight title.
“For me, my 200 is my best event,” Bolt said. “I live for this, so I’m looking forward to it. I know I’m going to do well.”
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Ken Ferris)