Thursday, August 21, 2008

U.S. men sweep 400

BEIJING -- It was the most anticipated head-to-head clash of these Games and in the end it wasn't even close.

Powering to a one-step lead off the final bend, LaShawn Merritt forged onwards to an overwhelming victory to dethrone defending 400m champion Jeremy Wariner clocking 43.75, to cap yet another dramatic evening of competition at a sold-out National Stadium in Beijing.

In fact, Merritt's margin of victory, at 0.99 just under a full second, was the greatest in Olympic history.

"You don't become a champion without being mentally and physically tough," said Merritt, who at 22 is two year's Wariner's junior. "And you know what, I showed up and got it done."

After watching Merritt romp down the homestretch, there was no simply no debating that assessment.

"I actually focused on running on that back stretch," said Merritt, who improved significantly on his 43.96 career best set it Osaka last year when he finished second to Wariner. "I ran it like I wanted the gold medal. Like my roommate, Angelo Taylor. He ran it like he wanted to win."

Wariner, lined up in Lane 7, got out the fastest, building a marginal lead midway through the back straight. But in the meantime, Merritt, running in Lane 4, opened with a slightly more controlled tempo, running relaxed down the back straight and began to draw even midway through the final turn to enter the straight with a half step lead.

That was usually the point where Wariner begins to pull away. But this time, as was the case in his two other defeats to Merritt this year - in both occasions lined up to Merritt's outside, incidentally - he didn't.

Instead, it was Merritt who turned that narrow edge at the top of the straight into an insurmountable lead which he extended with each long powerful stride. Behind him Wariner was a shadow of his former self. Unable to respond, he began to fade gradually, but held on for second in 44.74.

Closing markedly faster as well was David Neville, whose finishing lean evolved into a dive. He nearly caught Wariner, but fell - literally - just a bit short in 44.80, to clinch the second consecutive U.S. Olympic sweep of the event.

"I felt good off the first 200, when I tried to move it just wasn't there," said Wariner, whose only slower performance in a final this year was his 44.82 in Melbourne in February. "If I could have had the race I had in the semi-finals, it would have been a closer race."

"I had to go in head first," Neville said. "It was a tough race at the end, but sometimes you have to dive in and give it your all."

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