RIO DE JANEIRO - Eric Cray was a picture of a happy man after qualifying for the semifinals of the 400-meter hurdles in the Rio Olympics.
"I'm real excited," said the 27-year-old Fil-American after coming in third in Heat 4 in the first round. "I just wanted to run as fast as I can and I did that and got to the semifinals. Hopefully I can make it to the finals."
Cray, who traces his roots to Olongapo City, clocked 49.05 seconds to finish third in his heat behind Japan's Keizuke Naisawa and Irishman Thomas Barr who nipped the Philippine entry in the final sprint.
It felt good, I was relaxed. I thought I got second but when I came off the final hurdle and glanced to the left, I didn't see anybody but close to the finish line, the guy (Barr) got me," Cray said.
"So next time I need to focus all the way through," he added.
Cray said he is familiar with Naisawa, who he raced against just last May in the Kawazaki Grand Prix in Japan, where both went under 49 seconds.
"I knew he was good," he said.
But Cray, who went to the quadrennial showcase ranked 19th in the world, will have a lot of other people to worry about other than Naisawa in the semis after submitting the 16th best time in the six heats.
Annsert Whyte of Jamaica led qualifying in a personal best 48.37 and London Olympic bronze medalist Javier Culson of Puerto Rico ran 48.53.
Two Americans reached the semifinals, with Byron Robinson clocking 48.98 seconds and two-time world champion Kerron Clement running 49.17.
Cray, however, is unfazed.
"They're pretty fast, everybody basically's close to it, so I'm hoping I can break 49 again in the semis," Cray said. "Goal number one accomplished. Goal number two is get to the semis and run as fast as I can."
Cray, at least, need not worry about Nicholas Bett, who won a surprising world title in the 400-meter hurdles last year, after the Kenyan was disqualified in the first round.
The 26-year-old Kenyan was contending for the lead in Heat 5 when he crashed into the 10th and last hurdle. He stumbled and crossed the finish in last spot, and was later disqualified.
Michael Tinsley, the Olympic silver medalist in 2012, also failed to qualify after placing fifth in the last heat. (With reports from AP)