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LetsRun.com's 2009 IAAF Berlin World Championships Preview
Men's 400m - Finally Merritt And Wariner To Square Off
An event that undoubtedly will be overshadowed by the men's 100m and 200m is the men's 400m. But the 1-lap sprint features an amazing head-to-head rivalry that has had its twists and turns in the past couple years. Americans LaShawn Merritt and Jeremy Wariner, the 2008 and 2004 Olympic champions and #5 and #3 all-time on the world list, have yet to face each other in 2009.
In their separate races, both Merritt and Wariner are undefeated at the 400m. Merritt has been more impressive, posting the top 3 times in the world in 2009, ahead of Wariner's top 2. Nothing has happened to suggest anything but a two-man battle between these two in the final in Berlin.
Trinidad's Renny Quow looks ready to secure his highest global championship finish after a fine season, and Chris Brown of the Bahamas looks to finally get a medal after finishing 4th several times at either the World Championsips or the Olympics. Other contenders are out there, but we'll ignore them as they likely will be out of it with 100m to go in Berlin.
The fitness of Jeremy Wariner is a big question mark as we approach the meet. After ditching legendary coach Clyde Hart last year for financial reasons, adidas-sponsored Wariner re-inked the coaching genius for 2009. It is this piece of evidence alone that has us thinking "upset" in Berlin (if you can call Wariner re-claiming his world title an upset). Nobody has the magic 400m coaching touch of Hart, so it is easy to imagine Wariner coming through in the clutch with his best run of the year. Though Wariner has only run 44.66 this season, he has broken 44 in every season since 2004, so clearly Hart knows how to get him ready for the big dance.
On the other side, Nike-sponsored Merritt only has a 44.50 seasonal best, a tick better than Wariner but well below what he is capable of at his best.
The men's 400m final at Worlds comes down to 3 races over 4 days, and it will come down to a peak performance. We know Wariner feels better having Coach Hart in his corner. Will his tutelage and coaching experience be the difference Wariner needs?
In 2007 (see video, right), Wariner provided the peak performance with a career-best 43.45 in the Osaka final. In that race, Merritt accomplished his then-personal best as well, dipping under 44 for the first time in his career. Americans grabbed a 1-2-3 sweep thanks to Olympic hurdles champion Angelo Taylor. Can they sweep again? It will likely depend on Texas Tech star Gil Roberts, who has cracked 45 twice this year - once at Big 12s and then at USAs, where he nabbed 2nd behind Merritt.
Both Wariner and Merritt are legends already in their event, but this 2009 championship final may go a long way towards defining Wariner's career. A loss and momentum is fully in Merritt's corner. A win and they're back to even.
Men's 400m Statistics By LRC Coaching Guru John Kellogg
44.50 LaShawn Merritt (USA) PR 43.75 (#5 all-time, #5 all-time USA) (2008) Gold medal in 2008 Olympic Games, silver medal in 2007 World Championships