LaShawn Merritt in the mens 400m Final at the IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 (Getty Images) © Copyright
Feature Moscow, Russia

Hungry Merritt believes and wins big

There was a reason why LaShawn Merritt ran the fifth-fastest 400m of all-time at the IAAF World Championships on Tuesday, according to the US sprinter's coach.

"He finally believed in himself," commented his coach Loren Seagrave after Merritt flew to a time of 43.74 on the blue Moscow track.

"He didn't push the first 100, but allowed himself to flow down the backstretch," added the veteran coach.

The 2008 Olympic champion was then set up for a critical part of the race.

"Going into the curve, that's when you decelerate, but he was able to maintain through there and he kept on rolling," said Seagrave.

"It was the best I have ever seen him run. His Beijing run (for his Olympic gold medal) was really top shelf, but being able to watch him execute every step of the way (in the World Championships final) was brillant."

Everyone thought this would be a showdown between Merritt and Grenada's Kirani James, the 2011 World champion and 2012 Olympic gold medallist.

However, it was no contest as Merritt romped home to regain the World title he first won in 2009, with James fading badly over the final 50 metres to finish seventh.

"I was hungry," said Merritt. "Probably the hungriest person in the field. No, I was starving. It's been a while since I was able to perform at my highest level."

Seemingly set to take over the 400m, a US powerhouse event, after his Beijing triumph that produced the largest margin of victory in an Olympic Games 400m, Merritt, now 27, then spent almost two years out of the sport after his 2009 victory. He made it back to competition in time to participate at the 2011 World Championships, but was not fully in shape and was beaten at the line by James.

The London Olympics was to be their next meeting at a major championship, but a hamstring injury hit Merritt two weeks before the Games.

He tried to run in a qualifying heat at the Olympics, but pulled up in the race, unable to finish because of the problem.

Moscow was his first championship final at the global level for almost four years where he has been fit and ready for a fair fight.

"I was mentally and physically confident," said Merritt. "I knew what I had to do."

He easily won over team-mate Tony McQuay. "That race didn't feel that hard, so I think faster times will definitely come,” added the winner.

Seagrave readily agreed.

"There's a lot more," said Merritt’s coach. "He has got some more races this year. He really wants to use this as a building block for next year, then Beijing (the 2015 World Championships) and then on to Rio (the 2016 Olympic Games)."

Gene Cherry for the IAAF