LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James to battle in 400 at Pre Classic 

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May 7, 2015
For Immediate Release

(The 41st Pre Classic, a member of the IAAF Diamond League of elite international track & field meets, will be held May 29-30 at historic Hayward Field.)

Eugene, Oregon – Without fail, every 400-meter race between LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James brings excitement, drama and/or a close finish.  Especially at the Prefontaine Classic, where they will clash for a fourth time – more than at any other meet.

Kirani James owns the overall career head-to-head record at 8-5.  One of his wins was last year’s Pre Classic, which produced the most exciting finish in meet history, as James edged Merritt while both clocked 43.97.  That is the fastest same-time finish anywhere and just off Michael Johnson’s meet record of 43.92.

James won their first matchup as an 18-year-old at the 2011 World Championships, defeating the then-reigning Olympic and World Championships gold medalist Merritt in a stirring homestretch battle.  Merritt held the lead for most of the race until James passed him near the end.  The victory (by just 0.03 seconds) made James a national hero in his native Grenada.  A year later in London, James became the tiny island’s first Olympic gold medalist in any event.

LaShawn Merritt owns some incredible finishes of his own in this matchup.  Four of his five victories over James have come at the World Championships (2013), Pre Classic (2012 & 2013) and IAAF Diamond League final (2013).  His 2013 Pre Classic win over James was by just 0.07 seconds .  Their first Pre Classic meeting was in 2012, when James ran under protest after a false start.  Though he was not given an official time, James crossed the line just about a tenth behind Merritt in the American’s first win in the series.

Merritt is among America’s all-time greatest 400-meter runners, as only Hall of Famer Michael Johnson has more major gold medals than Merritt’s three (2008 Olympics, 2009 & 2013 Worlds).  Yet Merritt’s four Pre Classic victories are twice as many as anyone else in this event.

While pre-race attention will logically gravitate to James and Merritt, an intriguing collection of world-class elite runners are also ready to line up.

Isaac Makwala owns every national record of Botswana from 100 to 400 meters, setting all of them last year.  But his two on July 6, 2014 set the world’s fastest-ever one-day double for 200 and 400 meters.  On that day in the Swiss mountain town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, Makwala began with an African record of 44.01 in the 400, then came back 90 minutes later to add a 19.96 in the 200, becoming just the third African to run sub-20.  He won his second straight African Championships 400 gold last year and was ranked No. 3 in the world by T&FN.

Abdalleleh Haroun of Qatar is only 18 years old and has yet to lose a recorded race.  His young career has started with a pair of 44.68s, including winning April’s Arab Championships.  At 18 years and 2 months, no one younger has ever run as fast as 44.68.  The world junior record is 43.87, and this will be Haroun’s first race on U.S. soil.

America’s Tony McQuay was part of a fourth-straight U.S. 1-2 at the 2013 World Championships, taking the silver behind Merritt.  He recorded the USA’s fastest splits in the last two major 4×400-meter relays, both earning gold medals (2012 Olympics, 2013 Worlds).  McQuay teamed with Merritt on the USA’s winning 4x400s at the World Relays this year and last, again recording the fastest split this year.

Chris Brown is one of the Bahamas’ greatest athletes.  He has run in every Olympics (4) and World Championships (8) since 1999.  His illustrious career was topped by leading off the 2012 4×400-meter team to his country’s only men’s Olympic gold medal in track & field.  Individually, he has been an agonizing 4th twice each in the Olympics (2008 & 2012) and World Championships (2005 & 2007).  Brown won the 2010 World Indoor gold and was silver medalist last year.  He is the oldest ever to run sub-45 – 44.59 last year as a 35-year-old, still making T&FN world rankings at No. 7.

Saudi Arabia’s Youssef Ahmed Masrahi was ranked No. 4 in the world last year by T&FN, following a No. 6 in 2013.  He won the Asian Games last year as well as the last two Asian Championships (2011 & 2013).  His best of 44.43 last year is the Asian record.

Pavel Maslak of the Czech Republic lowered his country’s national record to 44.79 last year.  Maslak is riding a nice wave in 2015, winning the European Indoors (matching his 2013 title) as part of an undefeated campaign.  He also won the 2014 World Indoor gold.

Men’s 400 MetersPersonal Best
LaShawn Merritt (USA)43.74
Kirani James (Grenada)43.74
Isaac Makwala (Botswana)44.01
Christopher Brown (Bahamas)44.40
Tony McQuay (USA)44.40
Youssef Ahmed Masrahi (Saudi Arabia)44.43
Abdalleleh Haroun (Qatar)44.68
Pavel Maslak (Czech Republic)44.79
Fans can follow the event lineups as all announced fields are posted at  PreClassic.com.  The direct link to current start/entry lists is HERE and will include updates to all announced fields.Tickets for the 41st annual edition of the Prefontaine Classic, to be held May 29-30 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., are available now from goducks.com and from 1-800-WEBFOOT.  Sponsored by NIKE continuously since 1984, the Prefontaine Classic will be shown live to an international audience and by NBC Sports from 1:30 till 3:00 p.m. PT on Saturday, May 30.

The Prefontaine Classic is the longest-running outdoor invitational track & field meet in America and is part of the elite IAAF Diamond League of meets held worldwide annually.  The Pre Classic’s results score has rated No. 1 or No. 2 in the world in each of the last four years by All-Athletics.com, the official data partner of the IAAF Diamond League.

Steve Prefontaine is a legend in the sport of track & field and is the most inspirational distance runner in American history.  He set a national high school 2-mile record (8:41.5) while at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay, Oregon, that is the fastest ever in a National Federation-sanctioned race.  While competing for the University of Oregon, he won national cross country championships (3) and outdoor track 3-Mile/5000-meter championships (4), and never lost a collegiate track race at any distance.  As a collegiate junior, he made the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team and nearly won an Olympic medal, finishing 4th in the 5K at the 1972 Munich Olympics, at age 22.  After finishing college in 1973 and preparing for a return to the Olympics in 1976, he continued to improve, setting many American records.  His life ended tragically on May 30, 1975, the result of an auto accident, at age 24.  The Pre Classic began that year and has been held every year since.


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