By Sudipto Ganguly
TOKYO (Reuters) - Jamaican Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce clocked the fastest time to reach the women's 100 metres final on Saturday and stay on course to become the first woman to win a single individual Olympic athletics event three times.
The 34-year-old took time away from the sport to have a baby but arrived in Tokyo on the back of an astonishing 10.63 run - the fastest time this year.
Fraser-Pryce, who is looking to add to her 100m victories in 2008 and 2012, was not too far off her top pace in the semi-finals at Tokyo's Olympic stadium, clocking 10.73 despite easing off in the last few yards.
Fellow Jamaican and defending Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah showed she will not hand the gold medal on a platter to Fraser-Pryce when the final is held later on Saturday.
Running in the first semi-final, Thompson-Herah blazed ahead of the field early and maintained the big gap to finish with a time of 10.76.
Ivorian Marie-Josee Ta Lou, the 32-year-old silver medallist at the world championships, was the fastest during Friday's preliminaries and produced another blistering run of 10.79 to finish top of the second semi-final.
Swiss Ajla del Ponte qualified behind Thompson-Herah from the first semi-final while Ta Lou was pushed hard by Jamaican Shericka Jackson, who was ruled second in a photo finish.
The field for the semi-finals was weakened after Nigerian sprinter and 2008 Olympics long jump silver medallist Blessing Okagbare missed out after failing a doping test.
Okagbare had comfortably won her 100m heat on Friday with a time of 11.05 seconds.
Britain's Daryll Neita was the slowest of the eight women who will sprint to become the world's fastest woman and she made it through by one-thousandth of a second. Briton Dina Asher-Smith, the 2019 world championship 100m silver medallist, failed to qualify for the final.
Teahna Daniels was the only one of three Americans to progress from the semi-finals.
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Ed Osmond)