Bolt ran 19.78 seconds, pushed all the way by Canada’s Andre de Grasse in the lane beside him, in the second of two semifinal heats. He earns an automatic place in Thursday’s final. De Grasse finished in a national record 19.80 seconds to advance.
After winning the 100 metres to clinch his third consecutive Olympic title in that event, Bolt set his sights on a third straight sprint double and added another challenge: He wants to lower his world record in the process.
Bolt set the world record of 19.19 at the 2009 world championships in Berlin. He set the Olympic record in Beijing in 2008.
The other two Jamaicans Nickel Ashmeade and Yohan Blake failed to make the final.
Ashmeade, in his first Olympics, looked very strong approaching the curve in the first semifinal heat but failed to accelerate and finished fourth in 20.31. American Lashawn Merritt powered home to win the heat in 19.94.
Blake finished a disappointed sixth in the third and final semifinal in 20.37. And American Justin Gatlin, who also ran in heat 3 and was expected to be Bolt’s main rival in the final crashed out, finishing third in 20.13.