Defending champion Kirani James and Beijing 2008 Olympic champion LaShawn Merritt remain on course for what seems an inevitable head-to-head battle for the gold medal after both came through comfortably in the first round of the men’s 400m.
Merritt ran the fastest time of the round, taking the third of the five heats in 44.92. That was the only sub-45 clocking of the round, though James went very close, winning the fifth and final heat in 45.00.
There were five heats, with the first four in each advancing by place and then the next four fastest. 24 advanced to the semi-finals on Monday night, with Japan’s Yuzo Kanemaru taking the fourth and final non-automatic qualifying place with 46.18.
Tony McQuay of the US kicked off proceedings with a strong win in the first heat in 45.06, ahead of Belgium’s Jonathan Borlee, who ran 45.24. Denmark’s Nick Ekelund-Arenander and Nery Brenes of Costa Rica took the other two automatic spots.
In something of a surprise, Ramon Miller of The Bahamas, a sub-45 performer this year, finished fifth in 47.53 and failed to advance.
World University Games silver medallist Anderson Henriques of Brazil won the second heat in a personal best 45.13 ahead of Jamaican teenager Javon Francis and Italy’s Matteo Galvin. Saudi Arabia’s Yousef Ahmed Masrahi, third on the world on the 2013 world list with 44.72, was a modest fourth with 45.39, while USA’s 2011 World youth champion Arman Hall finished fifth and advanced only as a non-automatic qualifier.
Merritt won the third heat by two metres from Trinidad and Tobago’s Deon Lendore, with European champion Pavel Maslak of the Czech Republic third and Jose Melendez of Venezuela producing a personal best 45.82 to take fourth place.
London 2012 Olympic silver medallist Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic looked easy in taking the fourth heat in 45.23, ahead of Kevin Borlee, the veteran Chris Brown of The Bahamas and Nigel Levine of Great Britain.
Brown is just short of his 35th birthday and was a member of the Bahamas’ gold medal 4x400m relay team in London last year.
The fourth was easily the deepest of the five heats. The first four were virtually line abreast 10 metres short of the line and both fifth-placed Omar Johnson of Jamaica and sixth-placed Kanemaru of Japan advanced on times.
It brought us to the fifth and final heat and reigning World and Olympic champion James.
James was mid-field, no better than fourth or fifth, as the runners entered the final straight. Then he exploded away impressively to cross the line first in 45.00 ahead of Trinidad and Tobago’s Jarrin Solomon – who clocked a personal best 45.19 – Javere Bell of Jamaica and another sprinter from the Dominican Republic, Gustavo Cuesta.
Unless Santos, or someone else, can spring a surprise, however, the first-round heats did nothing to dispel the notion that the men’s 400m gold medal lies between James and Merritt.
Len Johnson for the IAAF