Cray finished third among six runners in Heat 4 of the preliminaries Monday noon with his time of 49.05, just a tick slower than his best time of 48.96. The top three runners in each of the six heats will be joined by six seeds in the semis, which starts at 9:30 p.m., Rio time.
A total of 24 runners are in the semis, divided into three heats of eight runners each. The top two from each heat will advance to the finals while the two other slots will be a tossup among the remaining runners, based on their semis clockings.
Cray, the fastest man in Southeast Asia, is determined to get to the finals where he can shoot for at least the bronze medal. If he advances, he will be the first Filipino in the Olympic finals of the men’s 400m hurdles after Miguel White did it in 1936 in Berlin.
White, also a Fil-American, won the bronze in Berlin.
“I qualified to the next round and I’m really excited. That was my second fastest time. I just want to get to the semis tomorrow and run as fast as I can and hopefully make it to the finals” said Cray, born in Olongapo City but now based in Texas.
“I had no doubt. I knew I just had to go out there and run to the best of my ability. I did that and I’m going to the semis,” he said after the race.
It was 37 degrees by the time the heats in the men’s 400m hurdles were staged. It’s been unusually hot and humid here in Rio the past two days when the past week it’s been cold and drizzling.
Cray said he was not bothered at all by the heat.
“It’s the perfect weather to run on,” said the 27-year-old as he headed back to the Athletes’ Village, needing to recover as fast as he can.
Cray will be in the second of three semifinal heats, bunched with Sergio Fernandez of Spain (49.31), Jameel Hyde if Jamaica (49.24), Keisuke Nozawa of Japan, who topped Cray’s heat earlier, (48.62), Jack Green of Great Britain (48.96), Abdelmalik Lahoulou of Algeria (48.62), Boniface Mucheru of Kenya (48.91) and Kerron Clement of the United States (49.17).
In his heat, Cray is ranked fifth but among the 24 semifinalists he is in 14th.
Annsert Whyte of Jamaica is the top runner in the semis with a time of 48.37, followed by Javier Culson of Puerto Rico, the bronze medalist in the 2012 London Olympics at 48.53, and Karsten Warholm of Norway at 48.49, whose times are better than Cray’s personal best.
White and Culson will be in Heat 2, while Warholm will be in Heat 3.
Cray’s coach, Davian Clarke of Jamaica, said Cray’s clocking Monday was his second best-time ever.
“But at this competition you have to run that fast and even faster if he (Cray) wants to make it to the finals and win a medal,” said the bronze medalist in the 4x400 relay of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
“Yes, we have big plans, and it starts by making it to the semis and then to the finals. Once you get to the finals, everybody has a chance. Once we get to the finals then we leave it all on the track,” he said.
From the stadium that was named after the football player who was part of the Brazilian team that won the World Cup in 1958 and 1962, Cray headed straight to the Athletes Village.
He said wanted to recover as fast as he could.
“I want to get rested and get ready for the semis. I hope I can break 49 in the semis. I feel good and I feel relaxed. I just want to take the whole day and rest,” said Cray.