29 August 2011Daegu, Korea - Following yesterday’s enthralling opening round heats LaShawn Merritt the defending champion once again offered compelling evidence that he will be the man to beat after qualifying quickest for tomorrow night’s final.
The American, who had clocked the fastest ever time in an opening round 400m heat at a World Championships with 44.35 yesterday, did not run quite as quick in the first semi-final but then again he didn’t have to.
After a 21-month enforced absence from the sport Merritt only returned to competitive action in July but he looks in the mood to defend his title. In blustery conditions he rounded the final bend level with Rabah Yusif of Sudan, who had ran an aggressive first 300m, and Renny Quow of Trinidad.
Yet his high-stepping action down the home straight, which indicated he was merely striding out rather than travelling at full pelt, eased him ahead of the field to take the win in 44.76.
On Merritt’s inside Kevin Borlee of Belgium came with his characteristic late charge to take the second automatic qualifier spot in 45.02. Yusuf was rewarded for his intent by placing third in 45.43. Quow, the 2009 World bronze medallist, faded to fourth in 45.72.
World leader Kirani James does not turn 19 until September 1 but the teenager also made a case that he could be Merritt’s main threat. With a beautifully easy languid stride the Grenadian is a lovely runner to watch and he bided his time until the final 60m before hitting the front to clinch victory in the second semi-final in 45.21.
It appeared for much of the race as if Nery Brenes of Costa Rica would join him. He ran a positive first 300m and led coming into the home straight before his bubble burst and he faded to fifth in 45.93.
Instead it was Tabarie Henry of the American Virgin Islands, who almost unnoticed, sneaked into second place with a powerful run from lane seven to take second in 45.73 and book a place in a second straight World Championship 400m final.
He did so by just 0.01 at the expense of the unfortunate Chris Brown of the Bahamas, who missed out on what would have been a fourth straight World Championships final.
Four men advanced from an intriguing third and final semi-final which contained the double amputee Oscar Pistorius.
Nonetheless, this was not a race where the South African Paralympic star every really featured and he finished a distant eighth in 46.19.
At the business end of the race Jermaine Gonzales of Jamaica, who looked on paper to be the class of the field, backed up that assumption to cross the line first in 44.99. The fight for the second automatic qualification spot provided a right scrap with Jonathan Borlee of Belgium edging out Rondell Bartholomew of Grenada by 0.03 in 45.14. Borlee joined his twin brother Kevin in the final while Bartholomew took the fastest loser spot.
Running blind in lane eight Femi Ogunode of Qatar ran a season’s best 45.41 to also, surprisingly, make the final.
It also means we have the rather unusual state of affairs where Belgium and Grenada each have two representatives in tomorrow night’s final and Qatar and the American Virgin Islands match the same number of representatives as the USA.
Steve Landells for the IAAF