Olympic spotlight: LaShawn Merritt 1

I’ll be surprised if LaShawn Merritt doesn’t win the 400m gold medal in London.

If he’s successful, he’ll be one of the very rare 400m runners to have accomplished the repeat feat in track’s second toughest race (after the 800m, which David Rudisha will win in a walk). Merritt has the speed of a world-class 200m runner (he went under 20 sec in 2007) and the strength to keep up the grueling pace over a full lap of the track.

In addition, he’s one of the smoothest runners ever. I’ve seen him compete in person, and he makes a sub-45-sec 400 look like a jog in the park. When the lactic acid hits and even top runners tie up in the final 75m, Merritt moves as effortlessly as he did leaving the blocks.

Exhibit A: Merritt running the fastest time in the world this year in winning the recent US Olympic trials 400m final over – among others – his old rival Jeremy Wariner. Watch how Merritt surges ahead of the field by staying smooth while others tighten up. You’ll also notice as the camera catches him seconds after the race that he seems barely to be breathing hard. So we can say that his fitness right now looks top notch.

LaShawn’s main rival in London will be the new kid on the block, Kirani James. James edged Merritt (by 0.03 sec) in last year’s world championship but has not come close to matching Merritt’s 2012 times. Nonetheless – the prospect of seeing two of the best athletes in the world on the same track together will make this year’s Olympic 400m a race you won’t want to miss.

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