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LetsRun.com's 2009 IAAF Berlin World Championships Preview
Women's 400m - Great Drama On Tap As Super Sanya Goes For First Individual Gold
*Video Interview With 2008 Olympic, 2007 World Champion Christine Ohuruogu
We'll start with Sanya. Super Sanya is, at 24, the most prolific performer of sub-50 second 400m races in world history. She crested the peak this year by overcoming a former East German drug cheat. She is a WC and Olympic champion ... in the 4 x 400m. She has not won a major global individual gold. And this will be her best shot yet.
Richards is in fine form this year. We might go so far as to say her best form ever. She has won every race she has run for the past 3 months, and has broken 50 seconds on 5 occasions. In a few weeks, she will likely take home a slice of the $1,000,000 Golden League jackpot, as she is 4-for-4 in those events and none of them have even been close.
All this success begs the question, how has Richards not won an international gold medal in the 400m?
In Beijing last year, Sanya's hopes for gold were spoiled by a "small cramp in the right leg" (see interview below) and also a fantastic peak performance by Britain's Christine Ohuruogu. But last year, Richards had only cracked 50 seconds twice heading into Beijing. And Ohuruogu, the 2007 world 400m champion, was 100% on top of her game. This year, Ohuruogu has barely raced the 400m, but it would be foolish to count her out. Put the pressure on Ohuruogu and she performs. She also seems to have developed a level of endurance that allows her to endure the three rounds better than her competitors.
Speaking of 2007 - the year Ohuruogu and countrywoman Nicola Sanders went 1-2 in Osaka - that was a year where Richards did not even compete in the open 400m. Why? Well - and we were there watching this happen with gaping jaws - Richards came in 4th in the US Trials in Indianapolis. Some have pointed to that performance (or lack of performance) as further evidence that Richards can't handle the rounds. There may be some truth to that sentiment as after that failure, Richards reeled off an undefeated 400m European season that included 8 consecutive sub-50 performances and a sub-50 anchor split for the US in Osaka!
But more than likely, Richards is just a fantastic 400m runner who hasn't put it all together at major global championships yet. Only 24, she still has time. But this year seems to be a year when everything is going right. She looks plain unbeatable, she has the best 400m coach in the world in Clyde Hart, and she has experienced the ups and downs of coming up short when it matters most. Is there really any woman out there who can beat her?
One relatively unknown threat may be 22-year-old Russian Antonina Krivoshapka. Krivoshapka just ran her first and second sub-50 400m races in the Russian Trials, and her semifinal time of 49.29 signals: danger! This young girl can run, and she will almost certainly be a factor in Berlin. She returned to earth with a 50.8 in Stockholm, but anyone who can crank a 49.29 deserves mention. She defeated Anastasiya Kapachinskaya, the Beijing 5th-place winner at 400m, in the Russian trials on July 24.
Of course, the Jamaican duo of Shericka Williams* and Novlene Williams-Mills can not be overlooked. Olympic and Worlds medalists, they will likely be a big determining factor of Richards' shot for gold. Looking at the video to the right, it's almost unbelievable that Novlene Williams lost and Ohuruogu won the Osaka World Championships. Richards is going to have to steel herself mentally to avoid tightening up thinking about Ohuruogu walking her down in the final straight as she has done to several others on big occasions.
*Williams' status is now in doubt. Click here to read more from the Jamaica Observer.
And how about Nicola Sanders? Second to Ohuruogu by only 0.04 in Osaka, Sanders returned to relative obscurity after those games. She's had some injuries but has returned this summer season, igniting hopes in Great Britain of not just one, but two 400m finalists. Her best time is only 51.21, but she ran that in a win at London's Crystal Palace just a few weeks ago. Perhaps she can find some more fitness between then and Berlin; otherwise, she'll have major troubles just advancing to the final.
Women's 400m Statistics By LRC Coaching Guru John Kellogg
49.23 Sanya Richards (USA) PR 48.70 (AR, #7 all-time) (2006) Silver medal in 2005 World Championships, bronze medal in 2008 Olympic Games, gold medal in 2006 World Cup, 6th in 2004 Olympic Games