The 400 meters is one of the toughest events in all of track & field. The fit human can run about 300 meters hard before their lactate levels make them collapse. Elite 400-meter runners learn how to pace themselves. You will be viewing one of the finest Men’s 400m finals in sometime, with amazing levels of fitness and desire. Deji Ogeyingbo wrote this preview for RunBlogRun!
Men’s 400m: Michael Norman has been the best quarter-miler this year, but can he finally get a global medal to match his exploits?
Michael Norman is a supremely talented athlete, but there is the feeling that he has so far underachieved despite running fast times pre-championships or Olympics. There is a sense this year’s World championship in Eugene might just yield to his appetizing talent and finally get him the global medal he so desires.
His numbers are startling. In a world where it seems normal for quarter milers to churn in 44s to win the most rudimentary of races, Norman is the only athlete to have run 43s twice this year, winning all of his races this year.
All of these make for good reading and will certainly put his competitors on the edge, especially World and Olympic Champion Steven Gardiner (who is unbeaten since 2017). But it is Norman. You just can’t be too sure.
History tells us he bulks under the pressure at major championships. Or how else will you explain him not making the final of the last World Champs in Doha despite running two sub-44s prior or his fifth-place finish in Tokyo after being the bookie’s choice to finish on the podium?
In the season in which he ran his Personal Best of 43.45 (joint fourth of all time with Jeremy Wariner), Norman looked to have been nursing an injury then, but still, for a sprinter who just has a knack for running sublime times, the least expected was a podium finish.
Now, fully fit and raring to go, there will be no better place for him to prove he can deliver when it matters most. In front of raucous and teeming home fans at Hayward field, a place where he was molded and has churned out outstanding times in his career. He won the Diamond league race there in May in 43.60 and a month later, the US title in a world-leading time of 43.56.
It won’t be an easy road to Gold for Norman. World and Olympic Champion, Gardiner will look to continue his unbeaten streak, one that stretches back to the World Championships in London where he finished second to World Record holder, Wayde Van Niekerk.
Since then, Gardiner has put together one of the longest series of races in which no quarter-miler can match and he doesn’t seem like relinquishing it. This year though, the Bahamian has raced four times, with his best coming at the Paris Diamond league last month where he clocked 44.21.
The time looks modest on the surface, but you will have to rewatch the race to realize Gardiner took his foot off the gas with about 20m to go. He certainly was saving his best for the world championships. He could win on any given day; Gardiner didn’t need to prove that in a Diamond League race. It’s the world championships that matter.
There are other contenders that could be a party pooper for Norman asides from Gardiner. Former World and Olympic Champion Kirani James is ranked number one going into the event. The ranking, though is much for his consistency in the event than for his wins. Regardless, he has a knack for always finding himself in the mix after recovering from Graves’ disease in 2019.
James is a seasoned performer on the big stage as seen at the Tokyo Olympics where he picked up a bronze. Although his only loss this season came against Norman, the American will do well not to discount the treat the Grenadian brings to the track.
Norman’s compatriots, Champion Allison and Randolph Ross both had a glut of races in college this year. It ushered them both to the US trials with Allison finishing behind Norman at the US trials in a new Personal Best of 43.70s ahead of Ross who clocked 44.17 for third place.
Defending Diamond League champion Michael Cherry gets the fourth slot of the US and will be out to reignite the sort of form that saw him finish fourth at the Tokyo Olympics, while South Africa’s Van Niekerk who opened his season with a 44.58s clocking two weeks ago will hope he can relieve the form the saw him hold siege in the event between 2015 and 2017.
For Norman, whatever the issue is, there is little doubt he has the talent, fight, and perseverance to produce fast times over the quarter-mile, the million-dollar question is if he can channel it to winning a medal on the world stage.
Like they say in the track world, times can be broken at any time but you can’t take a medal from an athlete even if they retire. Norman will be out to finally get his first global championship medal in Eugene to match his exploits.