The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

Top Ten 400 Meters of the Modern Era – Men

Nov 6th, 2012
1:33 pm PST

Sprinter ShadowHere we go with the 400’s. Definitely a bit tougher task, because as the distance increases, so do the odds that things may not be so close at the finish – making the task of evaluating much more difficult.

That said, there were races that shone through – because competitors find a way to make things close no matter the distance. Ironically, this list has several Trials races on it. Not that I am a “homer” in this regard – as the previous lists should attest to – but the greatest concentration of high level quarter milers have come through the US, so naturally there have been some great races trying to make the Olympic/World Championships team. That is reflected in this list.  
Of course, in most cases, it did take in the neighborhood of sub44 to get on this list, which means that the races that did make the cut were pretty darned good! So let’s take a look at what tit took to get on this list.

1. 1968 Olympics – After much thought and gnashing of teeth, this race had to rank #1. A huge barrier breaking WR with two men under the old record and bronze becoming the third fastest ever. It would take seven years (Ron Ray in 1975) before anyone would approach the bronze medalists time again! The WR lasted for TWENTY years! This was an iconic race. Legendary. And deserves the top spot.

43.86 – Lee Evans
43.97 – Larry James
44.41 – Ron Freeman
45.01 – Amadou Gakou
45.32 – Martin Jellinghaus
45.42 – Tegegne Bezabeh
45.42 – Andrzej Badenski
47.61 – Amos Omolo

2. 1988 Olympics – This is another legendary race – the first sub 44 in the Games since 1968. And it was a doozy with the teenager Lewis going out and making the rest of the field chase him home. Reynolds, with his legendary kick and fresh off his WR run in Zurich, gained ground with every step and came closest, but finished just short in spite of running his third sub44 of the year – the first man to do so!

43.87 – Steve Lewis
43.93 – Butch Reynolds
44.09 – Danny Everett
44.55 – Darren Clark
44.72 – Innocent Egbunike
44.94 – Bert Cameron
44.95 – Ian Morris
45.03 – Mohammed Al Malki

3. 1996 Olympic Trials – This race and #4 were very close for me, but this one finally won out on the strength of a pair of sub44’s and a 44 flat. It’s not often that we get races of this quality at the top – even now – so with a decent group in tow this one gets in the top three. Johnson’s runaway victory gave me pause – hard when there is so much space between athletes as I’ve discussed in the shorter races, but Reynolds and Harrison ran better than high quality races – MJ was just out there! Also take note that there were a pair of 44.3’s on the track, Maybank just ended up with a DQ, but it added to the quality of the race itself.

43.44 – Michael Johnson
43.91 – Butch Reynolds
44.09 – Alvin Harrison
44.30 – Lamont Smith
44.67 – Derek Mills
44.77 – Jason Rouser
45.64 – Quincy Watts
DQ — Anthuan Maybank (44.39) lane infraction

4. 1992 Olympics – The absence of a second 43 is what kept this race from being higher on the list. Still, how often do you see a trio of 44.2’s in the next THREE positions? And personally I have to say that this was one of the most beautiful 400s ever run — hands down. Watts was poetry in motion, and the field behind him exuded power – one of the few times you will see grace winning over power in a sprint. Lewis tried to repeat but Watts was in a zone cruising to a 43.71 in his semi! Great pair of races for Watts and a great race for the field.

43.50 – Quincy Watts
44.21 – Steve Lewis
44.21 – Samson Kitur
44.25 – Ian Morris
44.52 – Roberto Hernandez
44.75 – David Grindley
45.10 – Ibrahim Ismail
45.18 – Susumu Takano

5. 2007 World Championships – Another double sub race with Wariner looking like a man that was ready to attack the WR against Merritt in what was his breakout race internationally. Taylor was huge in third and Brown gave another of his solid big meet performances. But this one was to go to Wariner who was in his own zone at the time. What I like to call his “Metronome” days, when he was like clockwork around the track. A 20.9/21.0 first deuce followed by a turn that separated him from the field, then hold off anyone attempting to challenge. His recipe for sub44. Merritt clocked his first 43 and looked to have gained valuable confidence as the following years would show.

43.45 – Jeremy Wariner
43.96 – Lashawn Merritt
44.32 – Angelo Taylor
44.45 – Chris Brown
44.59 – Leslie Djhone
44.71 – Tyler Christopher
44.72 – Johan Wissman
45.50 – Avard Moncur

6. 1997 World Championships – It’s tough for non 43’s to make this list, as that is the real measure of a great 400. But a 44.12 is not a poor time by any standard, and the run down the stretch with only .20 separating 2nd through 7th is just unheard of. That aside, this was the race that began the “bye” for athletes into the World Championships, as it was created in this meet for Johnson who had been too injured to run at the US Championships.

44.12 – Michael Johnson
44.37 – David Kamoga
44.39 – Tyree Washington
44.47 – Mark Richardson
44.51 – Jerome Young
44.52 – Iwan Thomas
44.57 – Antonio Pettigrew
45.22 – Jamie Baulch

7. 1999 World Championships – I know that some will want the WR to have a higher place, but as I’ve said several times now, this list is about more than a single individual in the race. That said, the huge blowout that it was aside, the race for the remaining medals was not and 5th and 6th weren’t too shabby either. So the strength of the rest of the field brings the record into the 7th spot on the list.

43.18 – Michael Johnson
44.29 – Sanderlei Parella
44.31 – Alejandro Cardenas
44.36 – Jerome Young
44.54 – Antonio Pettigrew
44.65 – Mark Richardson
45.07 – Greg Haughton
45.18 – Jamie Baulch

8. 2005 World Championships – The second Major victory in a row for Wariner came against a field that was solid through 4th place. A sub44 for Wainer was followed by three men fighting for two medals .13sec apart. A bit of a drop off after that, but in the end that high quality in the first five slots was too much to ignore.

43.93 – Jeremy Wariner
44.35 – Andrew Rock
44.44 – Tyler Christopher
44.48 – Chris Brown
44.93 – Tim Benjamin
45.01 – Brandon Simpson
45.12 – Darold Williamson
45.46 – John Steffenson

9. 1988 Olympic Trials – This race is often overlooked, yet in my opinion is one of those legendary races as it was only the second time in history that two men broke the 44 second barrier in the same race. Through in the fact that it was truly close – and exciting with the come from behind antics of Butch Reynolds in full effect – and this race could easily have been higher on the list if just a couple other athletes were about .2 faster. The race trailed off a bit after the medalists however and that’s what moved it down a few notches on the list.

43.93 – Butch Reynolds
43.98 – Danny Everett
44.37 – Steve Lewis
44.61 – Kevin Robinnzine
44.79 – Antonio McKay
44.91 – Andrew Valmon
45.37 – Clarence Daniel

10. 2003 NCAA Championships – On the list and off the list. At the last moment I put this one back on the list. The race for the medals was just too close. Yes I know that there have been much faster races, but in terms of thrilling excitement, and closeness of finish, I’m not sure any race can match this one. So it slides in at the tenth position.

44.57 – Adam Steele
44.57 – Otis Harris
44.58 – Mitch Potter
45.02 – Gary Kikaya
45.28 – Kelly Willie
45.29 – Sanjay Ayre
45.40 – Brandon Simpson
45.82 – Richard James

There you have it. I’m sure there will be much discussion, but I think this is a pretty accurate list. As I said, as the distances go up, trying to adhere to certain criteria becomes a bit more challenging. Next to try to give the women a try. And I will tell you before I even get started that I know there will be controversy.  

9 Responses to “Top Ten 400 Meters of the Modern Era – Men”

  1. Anderson says:

    I would honestly put MJ’s record lower down, and the 03 NCAA’s up a few spots. Not only the .01 sperating the finish, but how the entire race payed out from the gun was just amazing.

    Another race I probably would be close. Put on the list is the 91 WC. Only .06 between the medals

    • CHill says:

      I thought about doing that with the NCAA race and the record .. That NCAA race being in the mid 44s with a bunch of 45s was just hard to justify ..

      I did think about ’91, it was in the top 12 to 15 for me ..

  2. Anderson says:

    Also another note, but adding Anthuan Maybank to the quality of the race is a bit unfair since he was DQ’ed.

    In the 200 you left the Beijing race off when before the 2 DQ’s there were 5 guys under 20 sec (only .03 separating 3rd-5th) with bolt breaking the “unbreakable” MJ record

    • CHill says:

      True .. I also left the women’s ’95 race out due to Torrence’s DQ ..

      My comment regarding Maybank was more “gravy” than “meat” for the race .. Maybank didn’t matter but added to the race – it was still high quality without him ..

      The DQ’s in ’08 & ’95 mattered because they materially changed the structure of the results .. That was my thinking anyway ..

  3. Skydance7 says:

    Not sayin’ it should be on your list, but another pretty good race took place in Eugene at the ’93 USA Championships. Johnson was the only sub-44 finisher (43.74) but five others, including Reynolds, Watts, Valmon, Pettigrew and one other (?) finished under 44.62

    It has been one of my favorites as that was the year USA went on to set that incredible 4×4 world record.

    • CHill says:

      Actually it is worthy of being on the list .. perhaps in that 8 to 10 range .. I was looking more at double subs but that close finish could make up for it, especially with a 44.1 and 44.2 ..

  4. Waynebo says:

    Just wanted to say that I am thoroughly enjoying this series. I almost feel irritated when I check and the next post isn’t up… but I know the research takes time 🙂
    Keep up the great work. I feel like I’m getting my track fix for the off-season.

    • CHill says:

      Thanks .. I’m a little frustrated myself because I like to get things up faster, but I’m trying to go through as many results as I can – not just majors .. So slower than usual , and lots of other things going on as well .. Trying to get it “right” ..

  5. Jeremy says:

    A few races I’d have put on this list that aren’t here, including the ’92 Olympic Trials which Danny Everett won in 43.81 and Butch Reynolds’ WR in ’88, breaking Lee Evans’ record of 20 years. I’d have that higher than MJ’s 1999 WR, as I think it was more momentous at the time and was a huge leap forward for the event. The other one, was either the ’93 Nationals in Eugene when MJ established himself as no.1 or the World Championships later that year where he solidified his status further in the race where Quincy Watts’ shoes fell apart!

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