All three medals of the Olympic men's 400m sprint were given to US athletes, with a surprising gold for LaShawn Merritt, followed by top favorite Jeremy Wariner - a success that counterbalances the US relay team disappointments.
LaShawn Merritt ran the race of his life when it mattered most to defeat defending Olympic and two-time world champion Jeremy Wariner in a 400-meter final showdown Thursday that ended with a US sweep.
Merritt, the 2007 world runner-up to Wariner, won in 43.75 seconds, a lifetime best that only four runners in history have ever bettered. Wariner was a stunned second in 44.74 with David Neville completing the US haul in 44.80.
"LaShawn ran a better race than me," Wariner said. "I came off the turn, I felt good, but when I went for it, it wasn't there. I have to be happy with a medal."
The best prior time for Merritt was 43.96 from his loss to Wariner in last year's worlds.
"Jeremy Wariner is a good competitor. We had to leave it all on the track," Merritt said. "I knew it would be hard race because Jeremy was always going to bring his A game. I just had to bring my A-plus game."
US men have dominated the Olympic 400, now winning a seventh gold medal in the event and 12 of the past 14.
"I have been waiting for this moment for four years," Merritt said. "I trained harder than ever this year."
Merritt dedicated the victory to his late brother Antwan Merritt, to whom he blows a kiss to the sky before every race.
"He passed away before I started track and field," Merritt said. "He would have been proud of what I did. I asked him to guide me out there today and that is what he did."
Merritt was third coming off the turn behind Neville in the outside lane and Wariner, who moved into the lead as he reached the straightaway for home.
But Merritt then surged past Wariner into the lead and stretched the gap with every stride, taking some lessons from Usain Bolt's 200m world record victory just one day early.
"I learned something from Bolt in the 200m," Merritt said. "He really opened up in the back, so I decided I would open up in the final and let it fly."
Six strides from the line, Merritt glanced to his right and saw nothing but air in Wariner's lane.
He powered to the line and Wariner could only hang his head in frustration after he finished as a man he dominated in the past year had taken his measure.
"Everything has been about these Games," Merritt said. "After the semi-finals I said nothing was going to get in my way in the final."
Now Wariner could only look for gold in the weekend's 4x400m relay.
"We swept for the second time, so we have to focus on the 4x400m," Wariner said. "If we all do our jobs there is no telling what we can do."
Merritt beat Wariner in June at Berlin to snap his rival's nine-race win streak and again at the US trials. Wariner answered in Europe, running a pre-Olympic 2008 world best of 43.86 at Paris to win a month ago.
Wariner, 24, split with long-time coach Clyde Hart early this year over financial terms and Merritt, 22, is Hart's new pupil.
Wariner could not equal his career best of 43.45 from last year's world final, which makes him the third-best all-time performer.
Christopher Brown of Bahamas, the third-fastest man this year, was fourth in 44.84 with France's Leslie Djhone, seventh at the 2004 Olympics, next in 45.11.
Date created : 2008-08-21