Rio 2016: Merritt inspired by world record as he looks to 200m


LaShawn Merritt was probably the only man in Sunday's 400 metres final old enough to remember Michael Johnson in his prime.

The notion of one day breaking Johnson's 1999 world record of 43.18 seconds surely drove Merritt through countless training sessions as he worked his way up in the sport, and the American was on the track when it finally happened - albeit watching from slightly behind.

After Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa shattered Johnson's long-standing mark to win gold in 43.03 seconds, Merritt said he appreciated just being on the scene.

"It was a crazy race, a great moment in history," Merritt said. "The world record was broken and the best man won. We went at it. I could have run better but it was fantastic to be part of that race."

Though Merritt, running from lane five, made up the stagger and seemed to be settling into an expected head-to-head duel with Kirani James of Grenada for the last 100 metres, both men gave way to Van Niekerk down the home stretch.

Despite whatever disappointment he felt about taking bronze - "I didn't handle the last part like I wanted to but I'll take my medal," he said - getting on the podium again was an achievement in itself for the 2008 gold medallist.

Merritt bounced back from a near two-year doping suspension to make the US team for the 2012 Olympics, but pulled up lame in his first heat in London after aggravating a hamstring injury suffered weeks earlier and did not finish the race.

It was a frustrating outcome for Merritt, who had worked his way back to the top of the sport after sitting out 21 months. That ban was the result of positive tests for DHEA that Merritt later said were the result of his use of a male enhancement product he had bought on a whim at a convenience store.

He spoke at the time of his humiliation in the wake of the suspension, but never backed down in his effort to reclaim the glory he found in Beijing in 2008.

Merritt came up a couple of steps short on Sunday but will get another chance in the 200m - a first for him at the Olympics.

At 30, he was nearly six years older than anyone else in the 400m final and he will be surrounded by youth again as he works his way through the 200m heats. However, he seemed inspired rather than discouraged to have witnessed the 24-year-old Van Niekerk's display on Sunday.

"I knew the time was going to be fast but I didn't know it was going to be 43.0 fast. He ran his heart out," Merritt said. "This is a great era and I'm proud to be part of it."