Eugene: LaShawn Merritt Challenged by New Talent in Pre Classic 400
It will be a Pre Classic debut for half the field and two who will compete in the U.S. for the first time are the fastest teenage runners this century.
LaShawn Merritt, 30, knows about running as a new talent, and even beating a few. He was only 19 when he won his first major gold, the World Indoor 400 in 2006. A decade later, Merritt owns 12 major gold medals – three in the Olympics, and his last in Rio featured an unpressured 43.97 anchor split for the U.S. 4 x 400 team.
Merritt has run faster than that from the blocks six times, topped by a 43.65. But 43.97 is his fastest at Hayward Field, first achieved in the memorable 2014 Pre Classic and then again in last year’s U.S. Olympic Trials – becoming the first three-time winner in that event.
Still, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist and top-ranked American by Track & Field News since 2011 was not done. Merritt earned 2nd in the Trials 200 (his first attempt at the distance in a U.S. championships) and in Rio was the only American in the final. He finished the year as T&FN’s top-ranked American, the first man in both the 200 and 400 since Michael Johnson in 1996.
In addition to his fistful of Pre Classic 400 titles, Merritt can also claim one in the 300, where he has the meet’s fastest time ever.
Karabo Sibanda, 18, is as new a talent as they come and one of four to make his Pre Classic debut. He was 5th in Rio – the youngest-ever finalist in this event – running 44.25 that is amazingly only No. 3 on the Botswana all-time list. It also puts him No. 3 on the world Junior (U20) all-time list, but only No. 2 from the southern African country which is now a major force in the event. Sibanda is still eligible for Junior records – the world standard is 43.87, set by American Steve Lewis in winning the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Botswana teammate Baboloki Thebe was only 19 when he ran his first known 400 race in the prelims of his national championships last year in Gaborone. Later that day he shaved nearly three seconds off his best and ran 44.22, beating Sibanda by over a second. The African Championships gold medalist last summer ran in Rio, but didn’t start his semifinal due to injury. Now 20, he had the fastest split on the second-place team in last month’s World Relays 4x400, a squad that ran 2:59.05 in Rio without him. This will be his first race in the U.S.
Luguelin Santos, 24, is the Dominican Republic’s fastest ever at 44.11, and second best in the field. Before Rio, he was the youngest ever Olympic finalist in this event, claiming silver at the 2012 London Games as an 18-year-old. A year later he earned silver at the Moscow World Championships. His list of gold medals includes the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010.
Pavel Maslak, 26, of the Czech Republic won the last two World Indoor titles as well as the last three European Indoor crowns. He was silver medalist in last summer’s European Championships, where he won gold in 2012.
Matthew Hudson-Smith, 22, was a Rio finalist, running his two fastest ever times on the blue Brazilian oval, topped by a 44.48 in the semifinals. This will be the British champ’s first Pre Classic.
Tony McQuay, 27, is regularly a blazing runner on the U.S. 4x400 team, clocking splits of 43.41 and 43.5 in the last two Olympics. A sub-45 runner every year since his junior season at Florida in 2011 (a double NCAA champ in 2012), McQuay has three major golds, all in the 4x400 – the last two World Championships in addition to last year’s gold.
Vernon Norwood, 25, anchored last year’s Team USA gold-medal 4x400 team in the World Indoor Championships in Portland. A former NCAA indoor and outdoor champ at LSU, he won the Millrose Games 500 indoors in February at 1:00.11, third fastest ever. This will be Norwood’s first Pre Classic.
|Men’s 400 Meters||Personal Best|
|Luguelin Santos||Dominican Republic||44.11|
|Matthew Hudson-Smith||Great Britain||44.48|
|Pavel Maslak||Czech Republic||44.79|