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

The World Championships Hottest Matchup

Jul 26th, 2017
6:34 pm PST

Sprinter ShadowWhat makes the World Championships THE hottest competition of the year is the matchups. The best of the best, gathered in one place to determine the best in the world in each event. In a meet of matchups, one should stand head and shoulders above the rest – the men’s 400 meters.

It was the hottest matchup in Rio and fittingly produced the hottest result of the Games – three men under 44.00 and a world record 43.03! Incredibly, in spite of losing one of last year’s medalists to injury, the 400 is once again shaping up as the hottest matchup of the meet.

In Rio we were looking at three previous World Champions – two prior Olympic champions – and three of the fastest all time facing off. As prior Olympic/World champions LaShawn Merritt & Kirani James, and World champion Wayde van Niekerk toed the starting line in the Olympic final. One of history’s classic races took place as all three ran sub 44 with van Niekerk lowering the WR out of lane nine!

While Kirani James will not be competing in London, the quality of this year’s race has actually IMPROVED! Check out the probable finalists in London.

Wayde van Niekerk is now the world record holder in the event. As if that isn’t enough, he’s added the world record in the 300 (30.81) to his resume. He’s also lowered his personal bests in the 100 (9.93) and 200 (19.85). He’s created the quadruple sub club (sub 10, 20, 31, 44) of which he is the only member. He’s going for a long sprint double in this meet, and is a threat for the 400 record – again.

Fred Kerley is the find of 2017. In his first year under 45 sec, he’s gone sub 44 and broken the collegiate record with a stunning 43.70! He’s been running the deuce in Europe and has dropped his PR to 20.24. During the collegiate season he ran several 400s at/under 44.10. Now he’s rested and improved his foot speed. He should be ready for a new PR in London. The question is just how fast can Kerley run as all of his previous races looked ridiculously easy.

Isaac Makwala is another quarter-miler on a roll. His PR is 43.72, and this year heading into London, inhe’s gone 43.92 & 43.84. The 43.92 race part of a single day double that included a PR 19.77 in the deuce; and the 43.84 pushing van Niekerk to the line in the Diamond League race in Monaco – the final competition before Worlds. Makwala has proven he can match van Niekerk’s foot speed and should be with him coming into the final 100.

LaShawn Merritt is the old man heading into London. The former World and Olympic champion set his 200 PR last year (19.74) and has run sub 44 the last four seasons in a row! He’s the most experienced quarter-miler in the field, and typically runs his best in the big meets when it counts. Like Makwala, Merritt has the foot speed to keep up with the WR holder through the early stages of the race. Though last year he let van Niekerk get away without a challenge. He’ll have to adjust this time around.

Baboloki Thebe is Makwala’s Batswanan teammate and the youngest true threat in the field with a PR 44.02. An obvious threat to run sub 44, Thebe could be the wildcard in the field – the young athlete that runs out of his head and does something spectacular! Similar to what Steve Lewis did in Seoul in ’88.

Given they all make the final, this will be the hottest 400 final in history. In the Rio final, van Niekerk went out fast, being stuck out in lane 9. The "bad" lane draw became a blessing in this case. Without knowing the lane assignments for this final, one would think that in order to win, you have to be able to run 20.8/21.0 thru 200 or get left behind. Because I don’t see the winner coming from behind in the final stretch. That means that finishing strength will be just as important as early speed. After all, we could be talking about the first sub 43 here!

Makwala ran van Niekerk close in Monaco. That said, I’m sure nether athlete was peaking for that race and we should expect faster from both after two week’s rest. The London race should be more like Monaco than Rio however, as I don’t expect anyone to just let van Niekerk run away and hide this time. Everyone knows what he’s capable of, the target clearly on his back. Merritt, Makwala, and Kerley are all hard charging quarter-milers capable of strong finishes. I think we will see all three, and van Niekerk in contention coming into the final stretch run. A classic is in the offing.

Expect this race to be historic. A 400 with three men capable of running under 19.80 in the deuce (van Niekerk will soon). IF the race goes the way I think it will, it could be the first with three men under 43.50. And of course, we could see the first sub 43! The WR is the favorite until he’s defeated. Set the DVR, so you’ll have a record of this one. Get your favorite beverage, and the popcorn, ready. You want to watch this one live. You’ll want to tell your grand kids, nieces, nephews, or anyone that will listen that you saw this one when it happened!

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