Word came out late yesterday that former World and Olympic 400 meter champion Jeremy Wariner’s toe injury is going to end his season. He is pulling out of the World Championships to get healthy and be ready for the London Olympics. He will be replaced on the U.S. squad by Jamaal Torrence.
Wariner has been in every Major since 2004 taking 400 gold in ‘04, ‘05, & ‘07, and silver in ‘08 & ‘09. During that same time frame, he’s been a critical member of our 4x4 relay success, running on 5 straight gold medal winners. Quite a run of success – one that has gone somewhat unnoticed.
In the course of the last week, we’ve gained LaShawn Merritt and lost Jeremy Wariner – the winners of the last five 400 meter gold medals in Majors. Merritt gives us the defending champion in the 400, and based on his Stockholm debut, a legitimate contender to repeat that win. With Wariner only having a season’s best of 44.88, and Merritt opening up at 44.74, I think we upgraded with that swap. Wariner has been struggling all season, and quite frankly wasn’t looking like a medal contender based on his performances thus far. With Merritt back and healthy we look to possibly contend for two medals instead of struggling to gain one.
Where his loss could be a game changer is in the 4x4. Less than a week ago, when Merritt crossed the line in Stockholm, gold looked pretty solid. After all, even a subpar Wariner would probably give us a mid 44 second leg in the relay. Combine that with U.S. champion Tony McQuay who’s a solid mid 44; hurdler Angelo Taylor who’s often run 43 second splits in the condition he is in now (44.82 in Stockholm in the open 400); and with Merritt possibly going 43 that was a winning combination!
With no Wariner, where do you get another solid mid 44 (or better) leg? This has not been the strongest of years in the 400 – globally or domestically. Finishing behind McQuay and Wariner in Eugene were Greg Nixon (44.98) and Jamaal Torrrence (45.11). Both veterans, but neither really barn burners. Looking at our 400 hurdlers, Bershawn Jackson and Jeshua Anderson can give you low 45 second legs on demand, but going below 45 is a question mark – maybe, maybe not.
Among the remaining quarter milers that were in the Eugene final, the best relayers have been Michael Berry and Calvin Smith – who finished 5th and 7th. Both have collegiate experience on their side (Berry at Oregon, Smith at Florida) and have produced regular mid to low 44 second carriers for their schools. In the absence of Wariner and his experience, I think I would have to go with one of these young men to secure a sub 45 split for the squad.
Perhaps we do what was done in ‘92 in Barcelona, run them both (perhaps along with NIxon and Torrence) in the first round and the man with the fastest split runs the final – of course we have to make sure we run a pairing that can get out of the first round. Based on Berlin results putting a squad on the track that can run 3:02.50 or better would accomplish that – and that foursome should be capable of that. That’s how Michael Johnson got on the ‘92 squad for the final. Running only the 200 in Barcelona he had to show form by running the early round of the 4x4 and “earning” his way onto the final squad (he split 44.7 on the 2nd leg).
Whatever the coaching staff decides to do, I think we do have adequate replacements for Wariner. Good enough that we should still be strong favorites for 4x4 gold in Daegu. If there was one relay event where we could take a hit of this magnitude and recover, it would be the men’s 4x4. With vets LaShawn Merritt and Angelo Taylor in the fold, we can work with a bit of youth – very talented youth. I know a lot of folk are feeling a sense of panic this morning, but in this “Good News, Bad News” exchange I think we come out on top in two events. Of course Daegu will have the final word.