Wednesday, August 10, 2011

World Championships Preview – 400 Meters

OK. Time for the fun to begin. I’m going to start with the 400 meters because there’s been so much activity there lately. Athletes in and out, up and down, and generally nearly unpredictable. Which is why I’m starting with this event – it’s got to be easier after this!


Men’s 400

World Record 43.18 Michael Johnson USA
Meet Record 43.18 Michael Johnson USA
2009 Gold 44.06 LaShawn Merritt USA


2011 Best

  44.61 Kirani James GRN
  44.65 Rondell Bartholomew GRN
  44.68 Tony McQuay USA
  44.69 Jermaine Gonzalez JAM
  44,74 Kevin Borlee BEL
  44.74 LaShawn Merritt USA

This has been one of the most volatile and interesting events of the season. Defending champion LaShawn Merritt, spent most of the year watching the action while waiting for his ban to end at the end of July – and waiting for permission from USATF to use his bye. The world leader for four months was Rondell Bartholomew, who ran his 44.65 way back on April 2nd. Kirani James ran an indoor WJR of 44.80, then fell down at the NCAA indoor championships. Tony McQuay was injured at the same meet while running the 200 and spent a great deal of the spring rehabbing his injury. Jermaine Gonzalez only finished fourth at the Jamaican Trials, but gained a berth to Worlds when 2nd placer Leford Green announced he was putting all of his eggs in the 400 hurdle basket. And for the first time since 2004 there will be a Global final without Jeremy Wariner, as he has withdrawn due to injury. So much for the soap opera section of this event!

Bartholomew has been pretty much a one race wonder this year, as he has not run under 45.17 since his PR run. McQuay returned from his injury to battle James for the NCAA title – James coming out on top with McQuay a close 2nd. Both then took time off, James returning just last week in London to take the world lead. Gonzalez has been on fire since his Trials 4th defeating Merritt in his seasonal debut (and only race this season), and coming 2nd to James in London. The only man with a quiet season among the contenders is Borlee, who has been solid if unspectacular.

So how does this one end up? I think it comes down to a battle of experience vs youth. James and McQuay are both very talented, and while they haven’t been through the “wars” they have shown in NCAA and Trials competitions to be able to hold their own and produce when necessary. On the other side of the ledger are vets Merritt and Gonzalez. Merritt is the defending World and Olympic champion, and his debut of 44.74 after the long layoff was impressive. Add to that the fact that he has run much faster than anyone else in this field. Gonzalez is tough, but relies more on strength than speed – which is where the youngsters may have an advantage in this race as both McQuay and James have young legs that have barely tapped into their speed, yet have much better 200 PR’s than Gonzalez – which I think will come in handy when the pace goes out near 21.0 in the final.

Put it all in the blender and mix it up and I pour out an experience / youth split:

Gold LaShawn Merritt USA 44.21
Silver Kirani James GRN 44.38
Bronze Jermaine Gonzalez JAM 44.48
Just Missed Tony McQuay USA 44.52




Women’s 400

World Record 47.60 Marita Koch GDR
Meet Record 47.99 Jarmila Kratochvilova TCH
2009 Gold 49.00 Sanya Richards USA


2011 Best

  49.35 Ana Kapachinskaya RUS
  49.66 Sanya Richards Ross USA
  49.71 Amantle Montsho BOT
  49.81 Allyson Felix USA
  49.84 Rosemarie Whyte JAM
  49.92 Antonina Krivoshapka RUS

Another event that has been very much in flux all season – though not the same soap opera as the men. The big story here has been the overall poor performance of defending champ Sanya Richards Ross, who after opening up with a 52.00 win on April 23rd, failed to win another final, or run under 50.61 until last week in London – her 49.66 win her first sub 50 since the WAF in ‘09! London was also kind to Jamaica’s Rosemarie Whyte who got her first ever sub 50 in second place. Interestingly, while Whyte has yet to win a race outside of Jamaica or South America, she has run second in Reims, Birmingham and London – and 4th in Monaco.

The big name in the absence of a fit Richards Ross has been teammate Allyson Felix who chose to focus on this event during the early season in an attempt to win the National title and give herself a possible shot at a 200/400 double at Worlds. A feat she successfully pulled off while leading the world on the clock for most of the early season. But the real workhorse in the event has been Botswana’s Amantle Montsho who, after a couple of early season losses to Felix, has an undefeated string of five races that included a PR 49.71 in Monaco. Quietly she’s been the best quarter miler on the season.

Finally, the enigma’s in the race are Russians Ana Kapachinskaya, and Antonia Krivoshapka. Enigma’s because both have run fast, but in the last decade or so, fast Russians in Russia, have not always panned out to be fast Russians elsewhere. These two are not strangers to top level competition, however. Krivoshapka took bronze in Berlin with Kapachinskaya 7th. But take note that Kapachinskaya was in a transition year, moving to the 400 from the 200 where she was World champion in 2003!

All that said, up through mid July this looked to be the Allyson Felix gimme race on her way to a potential 200/400 double victory. After the results in Cheboskary, Monaco and London, however, the once “lite” race has become fully loaded and could be the deepest of the two events. Where does that leave us? First of all contemplating where Felix has focused her training in the last month, because she is a three time defending champion in the deuce, and it is her favorite event. It also leaves me wondering about Sanya Richards Ross’ level of conditioning – yes she’s back under 50 but is she ready for rounds? I also have to ask if Montsho if ready to move up from her 8th place finish in the Berlin final, and whether or not either of the Russians is ready to improve upon their Berlin placings? 

My answers are that Felix prefers and will be more ready for the deuce. Richards Ross has not had enough time to be 100%. This field is deeper that Montsho is ready for. And Russia is back to the days of Pinigina, Nazarova, and Bryzgina. Making the outcome:

Gold Ana Kapachinskaya RUS 49.19
Silver Allyson Felix USA 49.37
Bronze Sanya Richards Ross USA 49.45
Just Missed Amantle Montsho BOT 49.64

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