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Merritt upsets Wariner in 400 meters

4 July 2008

Jeremy Wariner isn't invincible anymore -- a point LaShawn Merritt proved once again Thursday night.

Merritt pulled out his second upset of the year over the world's supposed fastest 400-meter runner, pulling away from Wariner in the final 150 meters to win the U.S. Olympic track and field trials.

It was the second big upset of the night in America's trials. In the pool in Omaha, Neb., 200-meter swimmer Brendan Hansen finished a shocking fourth -- but unlike Hansen, Wariner still did enough to earn his spot on the Olympic team in his best event.

"Not at all," Wariner said when asked if he was disappointed. "I just came out here to make the team."

Merritt finished in 44 seconds flat, defeating Wariner by 0.20. Earning the third spot was national indoor champion David Neville.

Moments before, the women's 400 went much more to form, with Sanya Richards winning and Mary Wineberg and Dee Dee Trotter capturing the other two spots.

The 1,500-meter quarterfinals were later Thursday night, with Bernard Lagat, Lopez Lomong, Alan Webb and Leo Manzano all in the field.

The race of the night, however, was the 400, and Wariner's nonchalant words told a different story than his body language at the finish line.

He shuffled his feet in what looked like frustration, then looked at the clock, which showed 44.20 -- well off his personal best (43.45) and nowhere near Michael Johnson's world record (43.18) that Wariner has said is within reach for him this year.

"The record is one thing I want to do, but I have to focus on winning the gold medal first," he said.

He is, indeed, not used to losing, though he has lost two of his last three races with Merritt in the field. Merritt snapped Wariner's nine-race winning streak earlier this year in Berlin, a result that turned heads simply because nobody has really challenged Wariner since he won the Olympic gold four years ago. Merritt is now 3-12 lifetime in races against Wariner.

But he was hardly in the mood to rub it in. Few will remember who won the Olympic trials. Many will remember who win the Olympics next month.

"I've never made the Olympic team, and I wanted to come out here and put on a good show," Merritt said. "I wanted to get first, second or third. I'm glad about it. I'm on my way to Beijing."

Starting in lane 6, one lane outside of Wariner, Merritt jumped to a slim lead about halfway through, though that's nothing surprising; Wariner does his best work in the final 150 meters.

But Merritt did not let up and as they started down the backstretch, it became clear that Wariner, wearing his trademark sunglasses in the Oregon twilight, would not make a move to catch Merritt, who finished second to Wariner at world championships last year.

When it was over, Merritt raised both hands in the air. Victories like this don't come often -- but they aren't unheard-of anymore, either.

"LaShawn was just the better man today," Wariner said.

Elsewhere at the meet, Anna Willard set an American record in the women's 3,000-meter steeplechase. Willard finished in 9:27.59, besting Lisa Galaviz's record of 9:28.75 set last year.

Lindsey Anderson and Jennifer Berringer finished second and third to earn spots on the Olympic team.

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