|Sanya Richards-Ross anchors the USA 4x400m team to win gold|
at the 2012 London Olympic Games
Michael Steele/ Getty Images Europe
If we can name the event the United States has dominated the most in one century of Olympic history, it is arguably the male 400m. However, in the last four years, the biggest track and field powerhouse has failed to keep its traditional stranglehold at the distance, succesfully challenged by a number of talented quartermilers, mainly coming from several countries of the Caribbean area. We have assisted to the rise and fall of LaShawn Merrit, eventually overcome as number one in the distance for teen prodigy Kirani James, and also to the historical defeat of the US 4x400m squad in London Olympic Games, well beaten by the Bahamas. As a result, the 400m is not anymore a one nation affair but instead has become an open one in which it is even possible the victory in global championships of athletes coming from such exotic countries as Grenada or Botswana. And indeed the acclaimed victories of Kirani James and Amantle Montsho were the first ones in any sport for their remote homelands at World or Olympic level. On the other hand, in female category the nations with the greatest depth for many years have been Russia, United States and Jamaica but often global champions have come from other disparate countries as it is the case of Amy Mbacké Thiam (Senegal), Ana Guevara (Mexico), Tonique Williams-Darling (Bahamas) and Christine Ohuruogu (Great Britain), before Amantle Montsho and Botswana’s biggest day in Daegu. On the other hand, it was equally notorious in these years the struggle of the most talented quarter miler of the last decade, USA’s Sanya Richards-Ross to triumph at last in a global championship, which she eventually accomplished at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin and then repeated at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
|Angelo Taylor for the United States and Ramon Miller for the Bahamas fight|
for gold in the last leg of the 4x400m relay final in London Olympics
Photo: Getty Images
In 2009 the United States remained at the top with its two standouts of the last years, Merritt and Wariner, who snatched respectively gold and silver at Berlin Worlds, besides teaming up with hurdlers Angelo Taylor and Kerron Clement for another 4x400m relay victory, ahead of Great Britain and Australia. Yet something was already going wrong: although he was still the second best in the world, Jeremy Wariner had considerably slowed down. Wariner, training under Michael Johnson’s coach Clyde Hart, had won gold medal at 20 years of age at the 2004 Olympic Games, then at the 2005 and 2007 World Championships, becoming the third fastest man ever, at the latter contest (43.45). In 2012 Wariner splitted up wit Hart, a decision which proved wrong for his career. Meanwhile, up-and-coming star LaShawn Merritt, the 2004 World junior champion, was quickly closing the gap between him and the world number one, to set a two-men rivalry in order to rule the 400m event, so Merritt had pushed his compatriot to his outstanding clocking in Osaka. Notwithstanding, at Beijing Olympics there was not rivalry at all: Merritt won the gold medal in a 43.75 PB, one second ahead of the dissapointing defending Olympic champion. In spite of returning back to Hart, Wariner was not back to his past fitness and was again handily beaten by Merritt in Berlin (44.06 to 44.60). In 2010, Wariner seemed in the way to recovery, dominating at the Diamond League and winning big at the Continental Cup. However, the following year he was struggling again and eventually did not even qualify for the Olympic Games. He seemed to have lost all his confidence as a runner. Wariner did not break anymore the 44 second barrier and at 27 years of age his prime had past.
|Battle of the titans at the 400m final in Daegu between Kirani James and Lashawn Merritt|
Photo: Ian Watson/ Getty Images Asia Pac
If the United States and Europe had lowered their standards at the 400m event, all along the Caribbean Sea plenty of talented quartermilers had blossomed in many different countries, although most of them growing as athletes in a USA college. The 2006 World junior champion, Rennie Quow of Trinidad and Tobago was the most promising athlete in the area by 2009, the year he snatched the bronze medal at the World Championships in Berlin and ran the distance in a powerful 44.53. Unfortunately, injuries stopped his progression but by then other wonderful youngsters as Lalonde Gordon, Deon Lendore or Jehue Gordon at the 400m hurdles had taken the relay. Even with a deepest field, the Bahamas had a well balanced team of quartermilers with experienced athletes as Chris Brown, Andrae Williams and Micheal Matthiew and strong newcomers as Ramon Miller and Demetrius Pinder. At 31 years of age, Brown still had the power to win the 2010 World indoor championships, ahead of Cuban William Collazo. In Jamaica, two athletes well in his twenties as Jermaine Gonzales and Ricardo Chambers made a big breakthrough in 2010 with huge PBs of 44.40 and 44.54 respectively, although both would also have troubles with injuries in following years. Another consistent athlete in the area was Tabarie Henry from US Virgin Islands, a world finalist in both Berlin and Daegu. Quite as good, Nery Brenes from Costa Rica won three area championships in those years, including the Pan American Games and he was even able to win the gold medal at the 2012 World indoors, before an injury left him out of the Olympic Games. Precisely at the PanAms in Guadalajara, Brenes had narrowly beaten a 17-year-old Dominican whose name was Luguelín Santos. That youngster seemed to be the next national star, the natural relay to Félix Sánchez, although the hurdler would prove at the Olympic year he was not done yet. Finally from the small country of Grenada there were Rondell Bartholomew and the men who had created the biggest expectations: Kirani James. http://moti-athletics-200-w.blogspot.com.es/2011/08/who-is-in-college-now.html
|Luguelín Santos achieves the silver medal for the Dominican Republic at the 400m London Olympic final,|
edging Bahamians Chris Brown and Demetrius Pinder
Photo: Roger Sedres/ Gallo Images
If Usain Bolt was already doing marvellous things on the track at a very young age, Kirani’s feats as a precocious running prodigy were even greater. Inspired by former world indoor champion Alleyne Francicque, he achieved the fastest time ever for a 14 and 15 year old at the 400m distance. In 2007 Kirani won the first of many titles at Carifta Games and the same year grabbed a silver medal at the World Youths. The following year he also won the silver at the world junior championship, being 15, thus facing athletes up to 4 years older. Eventually, James would snatch a global title in 2009 at the World Youth Championships in Bressanone, running the 400m distance in 45.24. Actually it would be two titles because he also triumphed at the 200m. A well-expected World junior champion in 2010, he chose Alabama University for his collegiate career to be coached by Harvey Glance. With Alabama, Kirani James won back-to-back NCAA outdoor titles in his freshman and sophomore years, also setting a new World junior best indoors in 2011, recording 44.80 to win SEC. After the NCAA final in June, Kirani only stepped on the track once before Worlds to make his debut at the Diamond League in London. However, he won big in 44.61. At 18, James was going to Daegu, leading the world lists, but was he ready to face the best?
The African team had prepared brilliantly its male relays during the year so the 4x100 relay also achieved an impressive victory at the World University Games. A second African nation, Kenya, made also the final. No less than Olympic champions in Munich-72 and silver medallists four years before in Mexico, in a squad featuring David Rudisha’s father, Kenya had achieved for many years impressive results at the 4x400m and at the single event as well, with champions like Samson Kitur. However, in the last two decades, sprints had been neglected in the country. For the 2010 African Championships held in Nairobi, Kenya made an effort to excel not only in distance running and the result was the victory at the 4x400m relay, ahead of traditional powerhouses in the distance as Botswana and Nigeria. South Africa and Kenya would be again the African representatives in London but with less fortune.
It was also noteworthy that for the second time in a row at Worlds, The Bahamas, one of the biggest favourites in the contest, failed to make the final in Daegu. They had reserved their best men Brown and Pinder for the final, taking for granted they would going to qualify but their replacements were unable to do it. They lost a big opportunity in a race which was won by the USA in only 2:59.31, the worst clocking in the event since the USSR won the inaugural edition of the Championships back in 1983. Interestingly, altitude or not altitude, the 4x400m level at worlds was very similar to what was achieved at the Pan American Games two months later by three squads absent in Daegu: Cuba, Dominican Republic and Venezuela, which brilliantly increased to six the number of Caribbean teams for the Olympics. http://moti-athletics-4x4-m.blogspot.fr/2011/11/with-8-months-to-go-4x400-squads-for.html
|Jonathan and Kevin Borlée, await for their result in the Olympic 400m final|
Photo: Olivier Morin/ AFP
The Bahamas entered its best quartet (Brown, Pinder, Matthiew and Miller) in the semi-final and this time there was no mistake. Without their leader LaShawn Merritt, the United States were eventually defeated in the final as Bahamian anchor Ramon Miller overcame Angelo Taylor at the homestretch to win gold in a new national record (2:56.72). This Olympic victory came 12 years after the female 4x100 Bahamian gold medal in Sidney and 11 after the triumph at the World Championship in Edmonton of another national 4x400m male squad, which already featured the perennial Chris Brown. Trinidad and Tobago, with single bronze medallist Lalonde Gordon, added another bronze to the one achieved at the 4x100m relay, beating in the process all three best European squads: Great Britain, Russia and Belgium. Venezuela, South Africa and Cuba completed the final.
Trinidad & Tobago
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