LaShawn Merritt runs a world-leading time and PB of 43.75 to win the 2008 Olympic 400m title (Getty Images) © Copyright
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Men's 400m - FINAL

head clash of these Games and in the end it wasn’t even close.

Powering to a one-step lead off the final bend, LaShawn Merritt forged onwards to overwhelming victory to dethrone defending 400m champion Jeremy Wariner clocking 43.75.

In fact, Merritt’s margin of victory, at 0.99 just under a full second, was the greatest in Olympic history.

“You don’t become a champion without being mentally and physically tough,” said Merritt, who at 22 is two year’s Wariner’s junior. “And you know what, I showed up and got it done.”

After watching Merritt romp down the homestretch, there was simply no debating that assessment.

“I actually focused on running on that back stretch,” said Merritt, who improved significantly on his 43.96 career best set it Osaka last year when he finished second to Wariner. “I ran it like I wanted the gold medal. Like my roommate, Angelo Taylor. He ran it like he wanted to win.”

Wariner, lined up in Lane 7, got out the fastest, building a marginal lead midway through the back straight. But in the meantime, Merritt, running in Lane 4, opened with a slightly more controlled tempo, running relaxed down the back straight and began to draw even midway through the final turn to enter the straight with a half step lead.

That was usually the point where Wariner begins to pull away. But this time, as was the case in his two other defeats to Merritt this year – in both occasions lined up to Merritt’s outside, incidentally - he didn’t. 

Instead, it was Merritt who turned that narrow edge at the top of the straight into an insurmountable lead which he extended with each long powerful stride. Behind him Wariner was a shadow of his former self. Unable to respond, he began to fade gradually, but held on for second in 44.74.

Closing markedly faster as well was David Neville, whose finishing lean evolved into a dive. He nearly caught Wariner, but fell – literally – just a bit short in 44.80, to clinch the second consecutive U.S. Olympic sweep of the event.

“I felt good off the first 200, when I tried to move it just wasn’t there,” said Wariner, whose only slower performance in a final this year was his 44.82 in Melbourne in February. “If I could have had the race I had in the semi-finals, it would have been a closer race.”

“I had to go in head first,” Neville said. “It was a tough race at the end, but sometimes you have to dive in and give it your all.”

Bahamian record holder Chris Brown was a close fourth in 44.84, with Frenchman Leslie Djhone edging Briton Martyn Rooney by a scant 0.01 in 45.11.

Since his victory in Athens four years ago, Wariner was the event’s dominant force until Merritt’s rise this year as his first significant challenge. Merritt has spent those same four years waiting for his moment to arrive.

“Four years ago I got gold at the World Juniors in Grosseto, and I said that four years later I wanted to do it on the Olympic level. And I got here and got it done.”

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF