23 AUG 2011 Preview

Men's 400m - PREVIEW

Kirani James cruises to a world-leading 44.61 in London (Mark Shearman)Kirani James cruises to a world-leading 44.61 in London (Mark Shearman) © Copyright

It may not have been a vintage season for men’s one-lap sprinting but the event is not short of talking points and media interest will be intense.


The first reason is the presence of defending champion LaShawn Merritt, who returned to competition last month following an enforced 21-month break from the sport.


The second reason is the appearance of double amputee Oscar Pistorius “the fastest man on no legs” who qualifies to compete following his 45.07 clocking in Liganano.


Merritt ran an impressive 44.74 in his first race for almost two years to finish second in Stockholm. This was his only pre-Daegu outing in 2011 but the race alone shows the US athlete is more than capable of retaining his title.


Merritt’s teammate Jeremy Wariner, the 2005 and 2007 World champion, who had been some way short of his best this season withdrew from the US team with a foot injury earlier this month and will not compete in Daegu. He has been replaced by Jamaal Torrance, the 2010 World Indoor 400m bronze medallist, who posted a season’s best 45.11 when finishing fourth (Wariner was second) at the US Championships.


The fastest US athlete this year is Tony McQuay, who recorded 44.68 to snare the national title. The 21-year-old is a precocious talent although he is very inexperienced and has not competed since June. The four-strong US team is complete by two-time World Indoor 4x400m champion Greg Nixon. The 29-year-old ran a season’s best of 44.98 to finish third in the US Championships to book his place on the team.


The world leader is the prodigiously talented Kirani James. The Grenada athlete, who celebrates his 19th birthday only two days after the men’s 400m final in Daegu, is unbeaten over the one-lap distance this season.  He landed the NCAA title in June but it was his area junior record of 44.61 to win in London earlier this month which perhaps best marked the World Junior champion out as a potential gold medallist in Korea.


James countryman Rondell Bartholomew, 21, is the world No.2 following a swift 44.65 recorded back in April, however, his seventh place finish in 45.86 in London may be a truer reflection of his World Championship chances.


The Caribbean challenge is bolstered by Jamaican Jermaine Gonzales who appears to be rounding into form at the right time. The 26-year-old smashed through the 45-second barrier for the first time this season with an impressive victory in 44.69 in Stockholm and has medal potential.


From the Bahamas World indoor champion Chris Brown (44.79) is sure to be a factor. The consistent 32-year-old has finished fourth, fourth and fifth at the last three editions of the World Championships and surely no athlete will be more deserving of an individual 400m medal than Brown.


His compatriot Demetrius Pinder (44.78) is another with the ability to prosper as does Tabarie Henry of the US Virgin Islands, the 2009 World Championships fourth-place finisher, who has a 2011 best of 44.83.


The European challenge is led by the Borlee twins from Belgium. Kevin Borlee, the European champion, ran a personal best of 44.74 last month in Madrid to put himself firmly in the picture as a potential medallist in Daegu. His brother Jonathan landed the Belgian title and with a personal best of 44.97 will also be a factor.


Pistorius, who runs on carbon fibre blades, will unquestionably create plenty of interest. However, his Liganano clocking was half-a-second quicker than his previous PB and he was a disappointing eighth (47.47) in Budapest in his last race on 30 July.


Steve Landells for the IAAF