05 JUN 2008 General News Oslo, Norway

Defeat in Berlin - “I’m already past it” confirms Wariner - ÅF Golden League

LaShawn Merritt beats Jeremy Wariner over 400m in Berlin (Getty Images)LaShawn Merritt beats Jeremy Wariner over 400m in Berlin (Getty Images) © Copyright

Jeremy Wariner today drew upon a previous experience of his being the victim of a major upset to explain why he expects to retain his Olympic 400m title in Beijing in August. Wariner was speaking for the first time since he suffered a shock defeat against his United States compatriot, LaShawn Merritt, on Sunday (1 June).

Merritt, the World Championships runner-up behind Wariner in Osaka last summer, defeated his countryman in the opening ÅF Golden League meeting of the season in Berlin four days ago. Merritt clocked a 2008 world leading 44.03 with Wariner four-hundredths behind in the DKB-ISTAF meeting.

Wariner returns to competition tomorrow (6) in the second ÅF Golden League meeting of the season, the Exxon Mobil Bislett Games, here. However, he will not face Merritt, who is scheduled to race at another IAAF World Athletics Tour meet in Eugene, Oregon, on Sunday (8). Chris Brown, of the Bahamas, third in Berlin and fourth in the World Championships in Osaka last year, would appear to be his most likely challenger in Oslo.

The World and Olympic champion left the 1936 Olympic Stadium without comment on Sunday but insisted today that he had not been scarred by the defeat. “It didn’t hurt me at all,” he said. “You win some, you lose some. Life goes on. You go to the next race. I have more important things in the rest of my season than just that one race. I ran a season’s best, 44.07. I can’t complain about that.”

Far from complaining, the 24-year-old Wariner said that the loss would spur him on. “I just use it as motivation if I lose,” he said. And, asked whether he was as confident now of retaining his title in Beijing as he was before Berlin, he was adamant: “Definitely,” he said. “What’s one race going to do to me? I’ve lost before. I lost in London to Tim Benjamin and I came back and won the World Championships and ran 43 seconds (43.93) for the first time.”

That was in 2005 when, as Olympic champion, Wariner was beaten by Benjamin, a Briton inspired in front of his home crowd at Crystal Palace, in the London Super Grand Prix. Four days later, Wariner returned to the winning groove, at the Super Grand Prix meeting in Stockholm and, less than three weeks later, he had added the World title to his laurels while Benjamin finished fifth.

My legs weren’t moving like I wanted them to

Asked whether he was over the defeat in Berlin – only his fifth in 43 races at 400m - Wariner responded: “I think so. I’m already past it. After the race, by about 30 minutes to an hour, I had talked to my manager Deon (Minor), my agent Michael Johnson, and my coach, Michael Ford. After that I was over it. I looked past it, learned from what I did in that race, and started looking ahead to this race.”

However, asked to reflect on what went wrong, Wariner said: “I haven’t looked at the race yet but I know that, when I got to the 300m mark and I tried to use my kick like I usually do, it wasn’t there. I ran a great race but my final 100m wasn’t what it usually is. My legs weren’t moving like I wanted them to.”

“A lot of it was the fact that they had us out there really early. Because of something going on (an anti global warming demonstration) they had only three (athletes’) buses running. We left the hotel about 12 and we never ran until 4.30. That had a big factor on it but it also had a big factor on all athletes, not just me. I’m not going to have the best race every time I step on the track.”

Breaking 43 secs

Wariner said that, as well as retaining his Olympic title, breaking 43 seconds was “a big goal on my list”. His current best is 43.45 and Johnson’s world record, set in 1999, is 43.18. For tomorrow, though, Wariner would no doubt be delighted if he could slay Johnson’s Bislett Games record of 43.86, set in 1995. Not that he would say so today. “If I break it, I break it. If not I am not going to be disappointed,” he said. “I’ll just try to go out there and have a good race and try to run a season’s best.”

Even the Johnson, the one man ahead of Wariner as the greatest 400m runner in history, was not immune to the occasional upset. It happened to him here 10 years ago when he was beaten into third place by two British athletes, Mark Richardson and Iwan Thomas.  Johnson responded by boycotting the victory ceremony.

David Powell for the IAAF