James vs. Merritt; men’s 400 meters a head-to-head at World Championships
What is the best individual rivalry in track and field? It may lie in the men’s 400 meters.
American LaShawn Merritt, 27, won the 2008 Olympic and 2009 world titles.
Grenada’s Kirani James, 20, won the 2012 Olympic and 2011 world titles.
It may look like a case of young surpassing old based on major medals, but the quarter-mile is still a two-man race going into Tuesday’s final at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow (1:50 p.m. ET, Universal Sports).
Especially when you look at the top 11 times this season going into the World Championships.
“It’ll be a showdown, but in these championships you can’t count anybody out,” Merritt said in a phone interview from Moscow. “It’s going to be a fast race where the both of us are going to go at it.”
They’ve gone at it a few times before this year. James won in Shanghai in May. Then Merritt crossed first in Eugene, Ore., in June. James took their final meeting in Paris in July with a world-leading time of 43.96 to Merritt’s 44.09.
“We’ve been going back and forth all year,” Merritt said. “The margins of victory have been small margins.”
James and Merritt are aiming to become the third men to win multiple world titles in the 400, joining Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner. Thirteen men have run better than 44.10 all time: 12 Americans, including Merritt (43.75 personal best), and James (43.94).
“We talk,” Merritt said of James. “He’s cool. I guess he thinks I’m pretty cool. It’s the respect for the event, to be able to run certain times. It takes a lot of dedication and hard work. The both of us know that.
“He respects me. I respect him, but at the end of the day when the bell goes off, we’re all competitors.”
Now that he’s an NCAA champion, world junior champion, world champion and Olympic champion, James’ eye is on the world record of 43.18 held by Johnson. He was given a large victory parade in Grenada after winning the nation’s first Olympic medal, but he stays simple training at the University of Alabama.
“It has changed tremendously, title-wise, but I just try to keep it the same,” James told Universal Sports.
Merritt’s defense of his Olympic title in London didn’t go as planned. He suffered a hamstring injury between the Olympic trials and the Games and did not complete his opening heat in London.
This came a year after being passed by James in the final 25 meters at the World Championships in Daegu, South Korea. James beat Merritt by .03 of a second.
Merritt’s goal from the start of the season has been retaking the World Championship. He’s confident of beating the field, including James.
“I feel like I haven’t run a race this year where I couldn’t go back and correct more than five things,” Merritt said.
Bronze: Tony McQuay (USA)