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KINGSTON (Reuters) - With Usain Bolt a notable absentee, Asafa Powell threw down the gauntlet at the Jamaican national senior trials on Thursday by running a blistering 9.98 seconds to qualify for the 100 metres semi-finals.
Bolt, the world record holder at 100 and 200m, has struggled this year and his absence on Thursday sparked concerns about his fitness ahead of this year's world championships in Beijing, where he is set to defend his sprint titles.
Bolt's agent, Ricky Simms, said the 10-times world championship medalist had been entered only as an option.
"Usain was never confirmed to run at the trials," said Simms. "He put his name in to have the option.
"I already told the media that coach (Glen) Mills would make a decision on Wednesday if he needed the race or if he preferred him to train ahead of Paris and Lausanne (next month)."
Bolt is scheduled to run Diamond League races in Paris on July 4, an event he pulled out of last year with a foot injury, and Lausanne five days later.
Bolt's absence did not seem to sap the motivation of former world record holder Powell, who blasted out of the blocks in lane five and built a commanding lead by halfway before cruising home, with Yohan Blake trailing five metres behind after a horrid start.
Powell said his coach had told him to power out to 40m and control the race from there.
"I'm in very good shape," Powell told Reuters.
"I've not had the best conditions so far in my races this season but I know I'm in good shape and hopefully I can run a really good time here," said Powell, whose season best of 9.84 is bettered only by American Justin Gatlin.
"I'm not putting too much pressure on myself so now I'm just going to relax and do what I'm supposed to do.
"It's very important because this is home so I definitely always want to win in front of my home crowd just to show them that I'm still here to stay."
London Olympic double sprint silver medalist Blake, who is continuing his return from an 11-month injury layoff, was grateful to recover from a poor start and closed well in a time of 10.24.
"I almost fell at the start and to come back like that you know I'm packing some serious power," Blake told Reuters.
"I just want to get it right even though I think I'm too eager and excited, so I have to just continue working on what I'm working on."
The semis and final take place on Friday.
Editing by Peter Rutherford