All season the men’s 400m has looked to be a two-man race between Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt. It still may be, but after the semi-finals Saudi Arabia’s Yousef Ahmed Masrahi and the Domincan Republic’s Luguelin Santos showed that they, too, might have something to say about the destination of the gold medal.
Merritt’s 44.60 in the second semi was fastest of the round, but only by a hundredth of a second from a resurgent Masrahi, who won the first semi-final in 44.61.
Santos, for his part, made a strong run home over the top of defending champion and Olympic gold medallist Kirani James, gaining a couple of metres up the straight to lose narrowly, 44.81 to 44.83.
Again, the three races with just the first two guaranteed a place in the final made for cut-throat racing. The slowest time into the final was 44.95.
Masrahi was drawn in lane eight in the first semi and always had the race under control. He led coming into the straight and held off Tony McQuay of the USA, 44.61 to 44.66.
Besides being a return to form for Masrahi, who had appeared to tail off coming into Moscow and was only fourth in his heat, his time was a Saudi Arabian record and was just 0.05 off the venerable Asian record of 44.56 set by Mohamed Al-Malky of Oman in 1988.
Brazil’s Anderson Henriques ran his second personal best of the competition in taking third in 44.95, with Belgium’s Kevin Borlee fourth in 45.03. Both would have to wait till the end of the round to find if they had gone through as fastest non-automatic qualifiers.
Ultimately, Henriques did, but Borlee, the 2011 World bronze medallist and London Olympic fifth-place finisher, was pushed out.
His twin brother Jonathan fared better in the second semi, tracking Merritt home in a season’s best of 44.85 to take the other automatic spot in the final from that race. Bahamas veteran Chris Brown ran a season’s best 45.18 for third, but failed to advance to the final.
That left the third semi-final, which James seemed likely to win comfortably, if not easily. It seemed he would, too, when he went clear in the final straight, but Santos, running two lanes to his outside, just kept coming at him. At the line, the margin was just 0.02, probably a little closer than Grenadian fans would have liked.
Pavel Maslek set a Czech record of 44.84 in third place and the European champion was rewarded with a spot in the final. Henriques took the other place in Tuesday night’s final which, thanks mainly to Masrahi and Santos, is not looking as predictable as it was before the semis.
Len Johnson for the IAAF