LaShawn Merritt's long road back to the top of the track world is complete.
The 27-year-old sprinter from Portsmouth ran away from the field down the stretch Tuesday, capturing the 400 meters at the world championships in a blistering 43.74 seconds. It was his second world title, and only four men in history have gone faster at the distance.
"I was hungry, probably the hungriest person in the field," said Merritt, who lost his chance at an Olympic title in London when he injured his left hamstring in a preliminary heat. "No, I was starving. It's been awhile since I was able to perform at my highest level.
"I said in the semifinal that this wasn't a two-man race. Eight men were going to line up who were hungry to represent their country and their sponsor, and I was starving."
The source of that hunger? An April 2010 21-month ban from competition for failing three drug tests - violations that Merritt says were from his use of a banned steroid in an over-the-counter male enhancement product. He had to go to court against the International Olympic Committe to win his right to compete at the 2012 Summer Games. There, a hamstring injury knocked him out in the qualifying rounds and cost him his spot on the 4x400 relay team, which failed to win gold for the first time since 1972.
"Life is full of ups and downs," Merritt said. "I'm the type of guy who would say, things happen. You always have to move forward. I never stopped training, I never stopped being confident, I always kept God first, and I always let my hard work be my confidence.
" I had a brother who was older than me who passed before it was his time to go, so I said, hey, life is full of ups and downs and you have to continue to move forward."
On Tuesday, Merritt turned what was expected to be a close race between him and Olympic champion Kirani James into a runaway. The American held a modest lead as the runners hit the home stretch but then pulled away. In a race often decided by one- or two-tenths of a second, he won by .66 seconds.
James, of Grenada, appeared to tighten up on the final straightaway and faded to seventh. American Tony McQuay took silver in 44.40, and Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic earned bronze in 44.52.
"I put the pedal to the metal," Merritt told Universal Sports after the race. "I knew it was going to take a 43-second race, and that's what I was ready for mentally and physically. I told my coach, 'We're going to have to run a little bit tonight.' "
Merritt, who grew up in Portsmouth and lives in Suffolk, set a personal best by .01 of a second and became the third man to win multiple world titles in the event, joining fellow Americans Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner.
"I wanted to come back on this big stage, this world stage and put a great race together," said Merritt, who mouthed "I'm back" to cameras after winning. "That's what I did."
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