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Wariner in hot pursuit of Johnson's marks

27 April 2008

By Elliot Denman

Someday, Jeremy Wariner knows, Michael Johnson's world records will go. The individual 400 meters (43.18) and the Johnson-anchored 4x400 relay (2:54.20), anyway. The 2:54.20 dates back to 1998, the 43.18 to 1999.

"And Michael, I am sure, would be happy if I did it," said Wariner after steaming a lap in 43.88 anchoring "USA Blue" to a runaway 2:59.71 victory in the men's 4x400 that featured the "USA vs. The World" series Saturday at the Penn Relays.

It would be all in the Baylor University family if it happened. After Johnson's exploits for the Bears in Waco, Tex., Wariner came along as his protege, coach and, for a while, his agent.

"The 400 record can go at any time, this year, next year, anytime in the next three years," declared Wariner, the 2004 Olympic champion and 2005-2007 World Championships gold medal winner.

This year? "Definitely possible," said Wariner.

"You can't think of breaking records when you run, you just have to be ready for it to happen when the time's right."

Wariner's schedule sends him jet-setting twice before the USA Olympic Trials open June 26 in Eugene, Oregon.

His next start will be a 200-meter race in Doha, Qatar early next month. Then it's back to USA for the Adidas Track Classic in Carson, California, followed by European assignments in Berlin and Oslo.

And, finally, it's home for the Trials. So deep is the USA talent pool for the 400-meter distance that any of a dozen others have the talent and speed to join him on the Olympic team.

Many of them were on hand at Franklin Field yesterday, as 49,831 fans - the second largest crowd in Penn's 114-year history - turned out for the third and concluding day of the 114th Penn Relays spectacular.

If any American is to threaten Wariner's realm, many experts figure it to be LaShawn Merritt, the Virginian who took the silver medal back of Wariner's gold at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka.

Merritt was in super form yesterday, too. His leadoff leg in 44.9 put "USA Blue" ahead to stay, and Wallace Spearmon (45.5), Darold Williamson (45.47) brought it home.

The second-place "USA Red" team had plenty of talent, as well. Xavier Carter (45.4), Bershawn Jackson (45.6), Kerron Clement (45.12) and Angelo Taylor (44.99) brought the baton around in 3:01.12 for second place.

Jamaica (3:02.00) and Bahamas (3:05.54) went 3-4 and posed no serious threats.

For those keeping score in the six-race series, three races for men and three for women, it was USA four, World two.

Seton Hall alumna Kenia Sinclair gave the many Jamaica-waving fans in the audience plenty to cheer about with her 1:59.3 800-meter anchor lifting the island team to a 3:37.61 women's sprint medley triumph.

But the Allyson Felix-anchored USA counter-attacked by winning the women's 4x100 in 42.57.

Jamaica retaliated with a 39.04 win in the men's 4x100, a race marred by USA leadoff Leroy Dixon's inadvertent run-in with a Canadian runner at the end of the first leg. Even though the Americans were running with the same four that won at the World Championships in Osaka, they couldn't recapture the lost ground. Spearmon, Doc Patton and Tyson Gay were unable to close the gap and settled for fourth in 39.38.

"I've been around track all my life, it seems, but I never saw anything like that happen," said Spearmon of the incident.

It was Kenya's turn in the men's distance medley, where Josephat Kithil's 3:58.95 carry lifted the East Africans to a 9:29.79 decision over Sean O'Brien-anchored USA.

It was Felix back on the track for a 50.1 second-lap that broke open the women's 4x400. Mary Wineberg's 51.4 leadoff got it going, Felix widened the gap, and Natasha Hastings (50.47) and Sanya Richards (50.18) did the rest in a 3:22.16-3:27.96 runaway over Jamaica. The 3:22.16 was a Penn record, topping the 3:22.93 by USA's 2005 team.

And the Merritt-Spearmon-Williamson-Wariner quartet wrapped up the big day for the home team. "This was my first visit to the Penn Relays and it lived up to everything I expected it to be," said Wariner.

But he was in no hurry at all after the race. Merritt and Spearmon had to open the post-race meeting with the media. "Hey, the world's fastest man is late for his own press conference," joked Spearmon.

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