Beijing Perspective, August 21, 2008, Merrit Dominates, Campbell Brown Cruises, by Bob Ramsak


Here is the perspective of Bob Ramsak on this unusual night.


By Bob Ramsak
(c) 2008 TRACK PROFILE Report, all rights reserved

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.”

The night’s first final saw Veronica Campbell-Brown continue the Jamaican roll in the short sprint with her own dominating victory in the 200m to retain her Olympic title.

Powering off the turn, Campbell-Brown cruised to a 21.74 performance, the fastest of her career and the fastest in the world this year, to become the first woman to claim back-to-back 200m titles since east German Barbel Exkert-Wockel in 1980.

Taking the silver for the second consecutive Games was American Allyson Felix, whose late race strength of a year ago at the world championships was conspicuously absent here. She clocked 21.93 to finish ahead of Jamaican Kerron Stewart, who also took the bronze in the 100m.

“I was more nervous this time than in Athens,” said Campbell, who won the world title in the 100m last year. “But fear is not something I bring to the track.”

“I’m definitely disappointed but happy to be here,” said Felix, who took the world crown a year ago. “I just have to pick myself up and go forward.”

Muna Lee, the only American to contest both short dashes here, was a very close fourth in 22.01, a career best. Lee took fifth in the 100 four days ago.

The evening’s last final crowned a new Olympic champion in the men’s 110m hurdles, with world record holder Dayron Robles, as expected, crushing the field in 12.93, just shy of the 12.91 Olympic record set by China’s Liu Xiang four years ago. This was to be the biggest evening of the Games for the hosts, but Xiang, falling to injury, barely made it to start of the first round.

He would have needed his best effort to defeat the Cuban, who has been head and shoulders ahead of the world this summer. Here, he was clearly ahead by the fourth hurdle, and continued without a glitch.

American David Payne, third at the world championships a year ago, closed strongly to move a notch to take the silver in 13.17, just ahead of teammate David Payne, who stopped the clock in 13.18.

“I felt confident about how things would go,” said Robles, who broke Liu’s world record in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in June, with 12.87.

In between, two of the most dramatic field event battles were waged virtually simultaneously in the women’s javelin and men’s triple jump.

Barbora Spotakova, the 2007 world champion from the Czech Republic, came through with a 71.42m throw in the final round, a European record and the fourth farthest of all-time, to snatch the gold from Russian Maria Abakumova, who herself reached an European record in the fourth round with a 70.78m heave, which when the ashes cleared, was “only” a national record. Christina Obergfoll of Germany, who watched her own European record fall in the competition, took the bronze, reaching 66.13m. This competition was the first to witness a pair of 70m effortsw.

In the men’s triple jump, Nelson Evora of Portugal again displayed his major meet mettle. The surprise world champion last year, the 24-year-old took the victory with a 17.67m season’s best in the fourth round, to edge pre-meet favorite Phillips Idowu of Great Britain by just 5 centimeters. Leevan Sands reached a Bahamian national record of 17.59m in the third round to take the bronze.

And in between it all, the woes of the underperforming U.S short sprint squads were most vividly displayed in the opening round of the 4x100m relays, with both the men’s and women’s quartets failing to move the stick around for the full lap.

This opens the door – floodgates?—for the Jamaicans who will be the heavy favorites in tomorrow’s final. Jamaican women have captured five of the six medals in the 100 and 200, while newly-minted international superstar Usain Bolt took both the men’s titles, breathing life into the possibility of a world record assault in the men’s final tomorrow. The world and Olympic record of 37.40 was set by the United States at the 1992 Games in Barcelona.

With just two qualifying automatically from each of the three semis, the men’s 800m semis were particularly merciless, and they claimed two of the pre-meet medal favorites. Defending champion Yuriy Borzakovskiy finished third in the first heat, and saw his defense hopes dashed when the second and much faster heat concluded just a few minutes later. In the third heat, world leader Abubaker Kaki of Sudan never found his rhythm over the opening lap and simply ran out of steam in the second, to fade to last.

The favorites for Saturday’s final include Kenyans Wilfred Bungei and world champion Alfred Kirwa Yego and Yusuf Saad Kamel of Bahrain.

American Bryan Clay leads the decathlon after the first day, tallying 4521 points, with Andrei Krauchanka of Belarus second with 4433, and American Trey Hardee third (4428). An assault on the world record appears to be out of reach but Roman Sebrle’s Olympic mark of 8893 remains within reach.

Day 8 begins with the final of the men’s 50km Race Walk, and also includes finals in the women’s long jump, men’s pole vault, both men’s and women’s 4x100m relays, and the women’s 5000m where Ethiopians Tirunesh Dibaba, the 10,000m champion and reigning champion Meseret Defar meet for the first time in nearly two years.


-Used with permission of Bob Ramsak,

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