We’re only a few weeks into the 2016 outdoor season, and in spite of what’s been crazy weather, it’s clear that the men’s "quarter" is going to be THE premier event of the year! Why do I say this? Look at what we’ve already seen.
At the high school level, the recent Arcadia Invitational saw a 45.51 to 45.94 battle among Michael Norman and Josephus Lyles – last year’s high school leaders at 45.19 & 45.46. Neither was nearly this fast last April. Josephus honed his speed during the indoor season, leading the high school 60 at 6.65! Since the outdoor season has begun, Norman has set a 100 PR of 10.27. Look for more from this pair. It’s been 34 years since our one and only high school sub 45 competitor – Darrell Robinson 44.69 to go with 45.16, 45.22, 45.36, 45.74, 46.09, 46.37 in his ’82 season. I say we see sub 45 again this year!
But that’s just among the teenagers! The real fireworks are going to come from the adults. The year got going early as World 400 Champion Wayde van Niekerk screamed a 9.98 in mid March – becoming the first sub 44 quarter miler to break 10 in the 100! Steve Williams (9.9h/44.8h) and Tyson Gay (9.69/44.84) have turned the trick and run sub 45, but no one had run sub 10 and sub 44. Michael Johnson ran 10.09, which prior to this year was the most speed we’ve seen from someone focused on the 400.
Of course, van Niekerk ran 19.94 in the deuce last year to show the speed endurance he used to go 43.45 and win World gold. Dropping his 100 indicates we could see a bit more speed in the deuce and quarter. He will need to do that this year, as the competition isn’t resting as evidenced by LaShawn Merritt’s 200 PR in the Bahamas. Running toe to toe with veteran Wallace Spearmon around the bend, he opened up and ran away down the stretch to scream 19.78 – only Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin were faster in 2015! Merritt is no stranger to sub 20 having run 19.98 back in ’07 – the first year he ran sub 44 going 43.96. On the heels of last year’s 43.65 PR however, it would appear that Merritt was not satisfied with silver in Beijing, and seems to be significantly improved in 2016!
Ironically, World bronze medalist, and defending Olympic champion, Kirani James was in the Bahamas running the 400 – where he set the current world leader at 44.38. James has run under 44 the past three seasons in a row and appears ready to make it four. His 43.74 in Beijing was the fastest third place in history – not necessarily a "best" that one wants to be known for. It looks like it could take even FASTER to garner bronze this time around.
2015 saw SIX men under 44.00 in the event – double the most ever in a season prior. Fifteen men ran 44.50 or better last year as the quarter is deeper than ever – there were only five in the Olympic season of 2012! And Granada already has TWO – James and Bralin Taplin (44.41). With the competition heating up like it is, dare I say that we could see a serious attack on the WR of 43.18 in the right race!
Michael Johnson set his WR in 1999 – three years after his 200 WR of 19.32. His 200 best in ’99 was 19.93 as his focus had moved to the quarter and the record – though it was much faster than his 20.31 the previous season (’98) when he ran 43.68 in the quarter. My point? I would think that both van Niekerk and Merritt have the speed to attack the record. Of course in the 400 it’s about speed endurance and holding on to that speed. My guess is that with bests of 43.48 and 43.65 respectively, both know a little something about that.
There will be a LOT of races and match ups to watch this year. Bolt very Gatlin; Felix attempting the double; the women’s 200 with Felix, Thompson and Schippers ; and the men’s Triple Jump with Pichardo, Tamgho, and Taylor to name a few. The men’s 400 could be the deepest and most exciting of them all! Must see TV.