By Mitch Phillips
BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic qualified fastest in the first round of the women’s 400 metres at the World Athletics Championships on Sunday, a race left open by the absence of injured Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone.
McLaughlin-Levrone, the world record holder over 400m hurdles and fastest in the world this year over the flat, had planned to race the latter in Budapest, but withdrew two weeks ago with knee issue.
With Olympic and defending world champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo able to manage only seventh in her heat four months after having a baby, Paulino has a great opportunity to claim her first individual global gold.
She was the silver medallist last year and at the Tokyo Olympics, is the second-fastest in the field this season, and won the final heat by a street in 49.90, the only sub-50 minute time on a blazingly-hot morning.
Poland’s Natalia Kaczmarek, Cynthia Bolinga of Belgium and Jamaican Candice McLeod were not far behind as all three qualified from a fast opening heat.
Sada Williams of Barbados, bronze medallist last year and the Commonwealth Games champion, also looked sharp before slowing almost to a walk when winning her heat.
The semi-finals are on Monday with the final on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Christina Fincher)
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