Jeremy Wariner began 2008 as the pre-eminent 400m runner of the previous Olympiad, one of the top draws of the international circuit, yet ended the season having been comprehensibly beaten in the Olympic Games and for much of the year by compatriot LaShawn Merritt.
Having failed to defend his Olympic title, Wariner the reigning World champion races in Paris on Friday at the Meeting Areva (17 July), fourth leg of the ÅF Golden League 2009, an outing which is part of a minutely planned programme aimed at taking him to his third consecutive global crown in Berlin and thereby go some way in restoring his previous aura of invincibility.
I lost my focus
Last year’s pre-season news that Wariner and his coach Clyde Hart had decided to go their separate ways was one of the surprises, nay shocks of the elite athletics world. The trainer had taken Wariner to two World and one Olympic 400m title, and had also been acclaimed planning and motivational inspiration behind the phenomenal career of Wariner’s manager and mentor Michael Johnson, the retired World record holder for 400m.
One year on and Wariner and Hart are a team again, and today at a press conference in Paris, the pupil to his great credit openly and humbly described the process which had reunited him with his training master.
“Last year I lost my focus. I hit a little bump in the road in my career,” said Wariner.
“I was disappointed last season…I’m using that as my motivation for this year.”
Wariner then went on to analyse the problem he had with his 400m running in 2008 in greater detail.
“My first 200 (of a 400m race) was good, I was even running the (final) bend well but coming down the home straight I was tired, and this year we have been working on that, with (emphasis on) strength endurance and speed endurance.”
“We are just trying to get my strength back up.”
Stop thinking about last year
But how did coach and athlete get back together, what was the process and did their mutual relationship with Michael Johnson help to heal the rift?
“Michael gave me his thoughts and opinions on the matter and those agreed with mine….He told me to stop thinking about last year and believe in Coach Hart.”
“So before Osaka (9 May 2009; 1st 44.69) we (Wariner and Hart) first spoke again, and two days before the Carson race (16 May 2009; 1st 44.66) we began working together.”
“We have asked Coach (Michael) Ford – who took on training responsibilities for Wariner in 2008 – to stick around. He’ll still be there whenever Coach Hart isn’t there. That happened recently during the Oslo and Rome meets when Coach Hart was in Europe looking after Sanya (Richards), and Coach Ford was looking after me back home.”
“We (Wariner and Hart) have put our differences aside. We are both happy to be back together, and he’s got a plan for me to be ready for Berlin.”
So you are now back to the same training regime that took you to your last World title?
“It seems like I’m following the same plan as in 2007 but as I say Coach Hart has a specific plan for Berlin, and I trust in him and just take what he tells me to do day by day.”
Wariner has had an extremely limited racing campaign in 2009, at 400m only four races. Paris will be the first major circuit outing following relatively low key wins at the Drake Relays (45.06), Osaka (44.69), Carson (44.66) and Lignano (45.74), and from here he just has one more race in Stockholm (31 July) before the 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics, Berlin, Germany (15 – 23 Aug).
“I have been doing a lot of training, and six weeks ago there was a little set back as I rolled my ankle (left) and its taken sometime to get back confidently running on it.”
Any given day anyone can win
What about his rivalry with LaShawn Merritt.
“Off the track we are friends, on the track we are competitors and what’s good for the sport is we don’t duck each other.”
What then happened about their billed head to head last Monday in Athens (13 July)?
“I’ve no idea, the (racing) schedule I was given always had Lignano (12 July) on it. You’ll have to ask my management about Athens.”
How much of shock to you was LaShawn’s form last year?
“LaShawn has always been there, the difference is last year he came out and was ready to go… he was racing consistently well while I was always fluctuating (in form). I had lost a bit of my strength (in 2008).”
But “LaShawn’s still there this year…any given day anyone can win, I just have to prepare myself to make sure its me.”
“Every time I lose I take it seriously and I try to correct it for the next race. It’s important that I step back on track and show last year was just a bump in the road.”
That was the second time that Wariner had used that phrase in 20 minutes of questioning, and rejoined with the experience of Coach Hart the World champion firmly seems to believe he has enough coaching hard core in his camp to help fill the career pot hole which was the 2008 season, and get his career back on track with his third World title in Berlin.
Chris Turner for the IAAF