LaShawn Merritt wins 400 meters at Olympic trials
LaShawn Merritt wins 400 meters at Olympic trials

The Virginian-Pilot
© June 25, 2012

EUGENE, Ore.

LaShawn Merritt is headed to London. His chief rival isn’t.

Merritt, a Portsmouth native and Wilson High graduate who won Olympic gold in the 2008 Beijing Games, looked sharp in the finals of the men’s 400 meters Sunday at the U.S. Olympic trials, winning in a world-leading 44.12 seconds.

Jeremy Wariner, the silver medalist in Beijing and 2004 gold medalist, finished a distant sixth. His only chance to compete in London will be as a member of the relay team.

Wariner trudged off the track with his hands on his hips, refusing to stop and talk.

Merritt, who won his preliminary heat Friday and his semifinal heat Saturday, turns 26 on Wednesday.

“Happy Birthday to me,” he joked after the race.

Merritt will be joined in England by the University of Florida’s Tony McQuay and Southern Cal’s Bryshon Nellum, who made the team after being shot in the legs as he left a restaurant near campus following a Halloween party in 2008.

“I wanted to come here to Oregon and run three smart races,” Merritt said. “There were eight men lined up who wanted to go to London. … I’m glad to go to London with McQuay and Nellum.”

Merritt said he’s looking forward to defending his title and competing with his new teammates.

“This won’t be my first rodeo,” he said. “I will go in confidently, and I am definitely confident in Tony and Nellum that they can handle this. They came out of college and now they’re with the big dogs.”

Former Norfolk State sprinter Debbie Dunn was fourth in the women’s 400, one spot from making the U.S. team. Sanya Richards-Ross won in a meet-record 49.28, followed by Dee Dee Trotter and former Hampton University sprinter Francena McCorory.

“We all trained for this exact moment right here all year long,” said McCorory, who graduated from Bethel High. “It’s a blessing to be alongside these ladies. We’re going to bring back the gold.”

Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic gold medalist in the 100 meters who missed the Beijing Games while serving a suspension, won the U.S. trials in 9.80 seconds. Tyson Gay was second.

They’ll try to dethrone Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt in London.

“Bittersweet. I always like to win,” Gay said. “I came in second. But at the end of the day, it was about making the team. I got to make sure I turn this little bit of a frown into a happy face.”

In other finals:

- Olympic silver medalist and American record holder Jenn Suhr won the pole vault. She beat Becky Holliday, who has funded her training over the years by working odd jobs as an airport server and bagger.

- Reigning Olympic discus champion Stephanie Brown-Trafton easily earned a spot.

- Marquise Goodwin, a receiver at the University of Texas, won the long jump with a leap of 27 feet, 4 inches.

- Reese Hoffa led a solid cast of shot putters, winning the event with Ryan Whiting and Christian Cantwell also making the team. Cantwell captured silver in 2008.

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