LaShawn Merritt ran a perfectly judged race to upset Jeremy Wariner and win the men’s 400 metres final on Day Five of the U.S. Olympic track and field trials.
Wariner ran his usual first 200, fast but controlled, while Merritt, running just outside him in lane six, reached the halfway mark perhaps a metre ahead. Then, when Wariner made his accustomed move going into the turn, Merritt was ready with a move of his own. In fact, Wariner never actually took the lead.
Merritt, still a metre in front at the top of the home straight, held off Wariner’s best effort and actually pulled away slightly as Wariner eased near the finish. They crossed line in 44.00 and 44.20.
"It was kind of windy out today, but I stepped on the track pretty confident," said Merritt, who upset Wariner at the AF Golden League opener in Berlin on 1 June. "I came into the finals knowing that now was the time to do what I needed to do. When I got to the curve, I was smelling Beijing and victory, so I just wanted to bring it home."
Merritt has been narrowing the gap on Wariner, the event’s key figure for the past four years, for the past few seasons, but said that the reigning World and Olympic champion doesn’t weigh heavily on his race plan.
"When I compete, he's not in my pocket, so I'm not worried about beating him. My focus was to cross the line first. I had to prove to myself that I could make this team and compete in Beijing and that's what I did."
While pleased with his victory, Merritt insisted that he won't be basking in this initial glory.
"I feel blessed to make it to these Games. I have been coming in second in the U.S. for the past couple of years, but after today this moment is over."
"I need to stay focused on my race, I didn't execute the way I wanted to," said Wariner, still the world leader with his 43.98 from Oslo's Exxonmobil Bislett Games. "I know what I need to do."
"I'm not real disappointed," Wariner continued, "but I am disappointed in how I ran the race. I just didn't run how how I should have. I'm happy to be on the team and I'm happy for the LaShawn (Merritt)."
"This motivates me and I know I need to train harder. I got to 200 metres and let (Merritt) get me in the end. I made a move at 150 metres and I forced it instead of using my kick at the end. I didn't execute right. I think I'm still the favorite (at the Olympics). I've been there before and I know what it takes to win."
On Wariner's pre-Beijing schedule are stops in Rome, Paris and Stockholm.
Third in 44.61 was David Neville, former Indiana University sprinter who is now John Smith’s star pupil since Maurice Greene has retired.
Richards wins by nearly a second
The women’s 400 final ran closer to form. Sanya Richards ran a careful, controlled race to win in 49.89 somewhat slower than was expected after her stunningly easy semi-final victory on Monday.
The 23-year old started fast for the first 100 metres, then throttled back until the middle on the final turn, then accelerated into a clear lead as she came off the curve and held her form through the stretch to reach the finish in 49.89 seconds, eight meters ahead of Mary Wineberg.
Wineberg, closest to Richards as the entered the straight, faded and finished in 50.85, barely holding off DeeDee Trotter’s 50.88.
“I watched Aaron (her fiancé) win the Super Bowl, and I wanted to go to Beijing and win. This was a big step. One more to go,” Richards said before taking a victory lap, exchanging hugs and high fives as she went with some of the capacity crowd of more than 20,000.
"It was so windy on the backstretch today and I knew that was going to play a factor in the time, but I kept telling myself that time doesn't matter here,” Richards said after her first sub-50 performance of the year. “It is all about finishing in the top three. I went out a little bit slower than I would like to in a major event, but I had to do that because of the wind so my time was good but not great."
A year ago on this track, Richards missed out on a spot on the World Championships team by one spot, an experience she won’t ever forget.
"Last time I was here, I can't forget, I was fourth. The other ladies ran excellent. Wineberg squeezed me out for that fourth spot so I definitely had that in my mind. I wanted to win here today and go into Beijing as the heavy favorite."
U.S. Steeplechase record for Willard
Anna Willard ended the day’s racing with an American record of 9:27.59 in the women’s 3,000m Steeplechase, sprinting away from Lindsey Anderson (9:30.75) and NCAA champion Jennifer Barringer (9:33.11).
Barringer pushed the pace early on before Willard made a move with 600 metres to go, gapping the pair to take the comfortable victory.
With 600 to go, I just felt so fantastic, incredible,” said Willard, who eclipsed the previous record, 9:28.75, set by Lisa Galaviz last year in Heusden. “"I knew I was in 9:28 or better shape. I knew I was ready. When I heard 9:28 (over the PA), I thought, 'this feels pretty good.'”
Reese threatening 7m barrier
In the only field event final of the day, Brittney Reese won the Long Jump with her sixth-round jump, a PB 6.95m (+1.4). Grace Upshaw was second at 6.88 (+1.8), also a PB. Funmi Jimoh took third at 6.72 (+2.1), edging heptathlon winner Hyleas Fountain’s 6.70 (-1.0). 2005 World champion Tianna Madison was fifth at 6.58 (+2.1)
In qualifying action –
In the men’s 1500m, Alan Webb turned in the fastest time of 3:41.27, leading his heat all the way, with Gabe Jennings and Lopez Lomong winning the other two heats, while 5000m winner Bernard Lagat advanced comfortably as well. Only six of the 30 starters were eliminated.
The women’s 1500m heats were even tamer, being won by Christin Wurth in 4:13.40, Shannon Rowbury in 4:16.13, and Lindsey Gallo in 4:17.01.
Anthony Famiglietti led all the way to win the faster of two heats of the men’s 3000m Steeplechase in 8:25.17, a second ahead of Billy Nelson; Benjamin Bruce won the second in 8:32.57. There were no major casualties.
In the men’s High Jump, all it took to advance to the competition proper was a clearance of 2.15m, although several jumpers also cleared 2.20m.
In the women’s Pole Vault, most qualifiers, including U.S. record holder Jennifer Stuczynski and former record holder and 2000 Olympic champion Stacy Dragila, cleared 4.30m.
Other field event qualifying rounds were won by Michelle Carter in the women’s Shot Put, with 18.33m; Jessica Cosby in the women’s Hammer Throw, with 69.70; and Jarred Rome in the men’s discus with 63.05, with Greg Garza (64.53 earlier this year), missing the cut of 60.06m by more than two metres.
James Dunaway for the IAAF