Merrit's victory over Wariner this past weekend has the sport a buzzing. The truth is that track & field is a sport, and the race, where both athletes challenged each other, step for step, was tremendous. In this column, Bob Ramsak of Track Profile.com, gives the reader some clear insights into Mr. Merritt!
TRACK PROFILE Report #763
MERRITT ON BERLING VICTORY: 'I TRAIN TO WIN.'
By Bob Ramsak
(c) 2008 TRACK PROFILE Report, all rights reserved
After handing world and Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner his first real 400m defeat in recent memory, one would imagine that Lashawn Merritt would be ready to celebrate that he had finally "arrived". But nothing was further from the 21-year-old’s mind after his 44.03 victory in Berlin on Sunday.
“It’s funny because after the race, I heard one of the guys say, ‘Celebrate! Celebrate!’” Merritt said. “But it’s just another race. I train to win so when I win it’s not a surprise. This is just one race down and many more to go.”
On paper, the World Championships silver medallist was the faster of the two this year, after a solid 44.34 performance in Martinique in early May. It was a performance, Merritt said, that boded well for Sunday’s Golden League kick-off.
“Mentally and physically I was ready to run,” Merritt said. Of his race in Martinique, he recalled, “I shut it down some because I had a 200 to run 30 minutes later. So I felt really confident that I’d come (to Berlin) and run a great time and win.”
The race, a veritable slugfest over the final straight, was perhaps the most dramatic finish at the German capital’s Olympic Stadium that afternoon.
“It was stride for stride, but I felt comfortable,” he said. “The last 10 or five meters I didn’t see him out of my peripheral vision, so I tried to hurry up and get to the line. So I felt myself kind of tense up a little bit because I was trying to get the line. I wasn’t really that tired but after the race I was winded.”
But Merritt insists that despite his success in his first head-to-head of the year against Wariner, it’s hardly the time to rest on laurels or even lay claim to any sort of bragging rights.
“It’s just another race,” he said. “It gave me confidence a little bit, made me know I’m in shape. And know that he is beatable. They’ve been saying one the one to beat him, and it’s about time that I showed that I can.”
His victory, Merritt believes, will be inspirational not only to him, but to Wariner, whose 43.45 at last year’s world championships made him the third fastest ever, as well.
“I’m pretty sure he felt like that wasn’t his best race, and I felt like it wasn’t my best race,” Merritt speculated. “He’ll take this as ‘I’m going to run better next time.’ It motivates him, and gives me confidence. The next time he steps on the track I know he’s going to run a lot better, so I’ve got to bring my A+ game. I can’t take anyone lightly. Anything can happen on any given day.”
Comparing his Berlin victory with his silver medal run in Osaka last year, where he joined the sub-44 club with his 43.96, Merritt felt his finish served him much better.
“My homestretch was better than it was in Osaka. But my first half was better in Osaka. Coming off the curve was better than Osaka. And that’s the main part of my race that I’m trying to improve. Anybody can get the first 300 meters. I’m the fastest guy in the field for 200 meters, by far. So if I get that 100, that’s all she wrote.”
As of Sunday, Merritt wasn’t sure if he’d contest Friday’s ExxonMobil Bislett Games in Oslo to continue the chase for the $1 million AF Golden League Jackpot, due to his contractual obligations with his shoe sponsor, Nike, to run at Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore. He clearly had second thoughts when talking to reporters after his race but as of yet doesn’t appear on the Oslo start list.
“I’ll get paid a lot more to run Oslo than to run Pre,” he said, “but I’m contracted to run Pre. Right now, I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I’m contracted to run Pre but the Golden League is important and the 400 is Golden League this year.” While Nike has not outrightly prevented him from running in Oslo, he said, “they want me to perform at Pre, and that’s two days after.” Along with a very long flight.
Regardless of where he races, he’s already looking ahead. “This was a great stepping stone,” he said in Berlin, “but in my next race, I won’t even be thinking about this race.”
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