Merritt To Run For Olympic Gold
Aug. 19, 2008
BEIJING (AFP) - Reigning Olympic and two-time world champion Jeremy Wariner booked a 400 meters Olympic final showdown with top rival LaShawn Merritt as both US stars won their semi-final heats Tuesday.
Wariner captured his heat in 44.15 seconds, surging to the lead at the start and easing at the finish, while Merritt took his later heat in 44.12, pulling away at the finish to become the fastest qualifier for Thursday's final.
"I was out there to get qualified and prepare for Thursday. I did everything I wanted to out there," Wariner said.
Merritt, the 2007 world runner-up to Wariner, beat his arch-rival in the US Olympic trials but lost twice to him last month in Europe, setting the stage for their most meaningful meeting yet.
"It's time to run great," Merritt said. "I can't control what anybody else is going to do. I'm just going to try the greatest race of my life. I'm going out there Thursday and run the heck out of my race."
US men have dominated the men's 400, winning the past six gold medals in the event and 11 of the past 13. They could even sweep the podium as the US 400 hurdles lineup did since American David Neville also reached the finals.
"I'm pretty confident. My fitness is there," Neville said. "It's just executing my race. If I do that I'll be fine."
Wariner is openly chasing the world record of 43.18 seconds set in 1999 by two-time Olympic champion Michael Johnson, who serves as his manager.
"The ultimate thing would be to go 42 out there and win," Wariner said. "It's a fast track. I'm ready to go. We'll see Thursday. I just want to win. Whatever time I do I will be happy."
Wariner promised some new shoes for Thursday, saying, "I'll have something special for the final."
Merritt, who blows a kiss to the sky before every race to honor his late brother Antwan, was calm about his semi-final effort.
"I just set it up," Merritt said. "The big thing about the semi-finals is setting yourself up for the finals and winning your heat. It's about clearing the field."
Wariner split with long-time coach Clyde Hart early this year over financial terms and Merritt is his ex-mentor's new pupil. Wariner went with Michael Ford, an assistant coach to Hart at Baylor University, which both runners attended.
"Coach Ford and Michael wanted me to run the first 200 like I did (in the first round)," Wariner said. "I'm happy with the way I ran. I was relaxed out there."
Merritt beat Wariner in June at Berlin to snap his rival's nine-race win streak and again at the US trials. Wariner answered in Europe, running a 2008 world best of 43.86 at Paris to beat him a month ago.
But that has not dimmed Merritt's confidence that he can take gold.
"I want to win. Whatever happens is going to happen," Merritt said. "If he wins and I get a silver, I'm going to congratulate him and go on to the next race.
"The first step in winning is believing and I believe I can win."
Wariner's career best is 43.45 from last year's world final, making him the third-best all-time performer, while Merritt ranks eighth on that list with a 43.96 from the same race.