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Merritt avoids facing Wariner in Carson

17 May 2007

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By Robert Falkoff

For those track-and-field fans who attend Sunday's Adidas Track Classic in Carson, Calif., promising young sprinter LaShawn Merritt will be leaving something for the imagination.

The overall quest for Merritt this summer leading up to the 2008 Olympics is to challenge the dominance of 400-meter champion Jeremy Wariner. But while the champion will be settling into the starting blocks for his feature event on Sunday, Merritt will forego the 400 and focus instead on making his mark against a highly competitive field in the 200 meters.

Watch Wariner do his thing in the 400. Watch Merritt come off the curve and pound for home in the 200. Then draw your own conclusions about whether Merritt will eventually be able to dethrone Wariner when the two go head-to-head in 400-meter fields and try to reach a 2007 peak for the World Championships in Osaka.

"Jeremy is a phenomenal athlete," Merritt said earlier this year during a USA Track and Field teleconference. "When we get on the track, it's pretty much the best man wins. I like to compete, he likes to compete. He has been the top man the last couple of years."

Wariner is coming off a banner year in 2006. He posted the world's fastest time of 43.62 and broke 44 seconds on three occasions. He was ranked No. 1 in the world for the third consecutive year by Track & Field News and the only race he didn't win was in the final competition in Shanghai when he did not finish.

Wariner, 23, is ranked third in the latest IAAF overall rankings. Merritt, who ran a personal best of 44.14 in the 400 last year, is ranked 24th. The fact that Merritt won't turn 21 until June 27 prompts the question of just how much growth potential he might have in the 400.

"A lot of the races I ran last year I have on film," Merritt said. "We're taking a lot of those races and breaking them down to see what I was doing wrong and see if I could go out a little bit faster and execute on the curve coming home. We've been working on different stuff in my race, not necessarily to get under that 44-second barrier, but to make me run faster."

Merritt will concentrate on the pure speed aspect in Sunday's 200. Three of the top five men in the world last year will be competing in the event. Xavier Carter ran 19.63 for the fastest time in the world last year. Wallace Spearmon, a 2005 World Championships silver medalist, had a 19.65. Merritt, who ranked No. 5 in the world at 200 meters last year, will also have to contend with 2004 Olympic gold medalist Shawn Crawford.

Wariner is expected to put on another big show in the 400. Fans will also gauge the progress of women's sprinter Allyson Felix, who was a recent double winner in the 100 and 400 at Doha, Qatar.

The Adidas lineup will have roughly two dozen Olympic gold medalists and World Champions. The headliner list includes sprinters Tyson Gay, Ana Guevara and Veronica Campbell; pole vaulter Stacy Dragila and distance runner Meseret Defar.

Four of the top 10 men shot putters from 2006 will compete in Carson. The field is led by Reese Hoffa, who is ranked No. 1 in the world. Christian Cantwell, Adam Nelson and Dan Taylor will be looking to steal the spotlight in that event.

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