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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Olympic Preview: 400 Meters

The seventh installment in my Olympic Preview series examines the flat one-lap races for both men and women.

Men's 400 Meters
The Schedule: heats, Monday Aug 18; semifinals, Tuesday Aug 19; finals, Thursday Aug 21
The Americans: #1 Jeremy Wariner, #2 LaShawn Merritt, #8 David Neville
The Contenders: #3 Chris Brown (BAH), #4 Ricardo Chambers (JAM), #5 Tyler Christopher (CAN)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Wariner, Merritt, Christopher; SI - Wariner, Merritt, Brown
The Story: A funny thing happened on the way to Jeremy Wariner's unchallenged Olympic title defense: he got challenged. Beat, actually. Along with the men's high hurdles and women's 5k, this will be one of the very best races in the whole shebang. Wariner's season record against rival LaShawn Merritt stands at 2-2, and the race will go to the one who makes the fewest mistakes.

In their wake, the race for third is nearly as tight. Brown has topped all the others over the outdoor season, but Christopher usually runs his best in the biggest meets. He certainly did at the World Indoors, where he won gold. Neville's performance at the Olympic Trials suggests he should be in the fight as well.

Women's 400 Meters
The Schedule: heats, Saturday Aug 16; semifinals, Sunday Aug 17; finals, Tuesday Aug 19
The Americans: #1 Sanya Richards, #6 Mary Wineberg, DeeDee Trotter
The Contenders: #3 Novlene Williams (JAM), #4 Shericka Williams (JAM), #5 Ana Kapachinskaia (RUS), #7 Christine Ohuruogu (GBR)
The Stats: Records, 2008 List, 2007 Worlds, 2004 Olympics
The Medal Picks: T&FN - Richards, Ohuruogu, Williams; SI - Richards, Williams, Whyte
The Story: Last year's shocker was Richards faltering to fourth at the USA Championships and not making the Worlds team. It was revealed that she suffers from Behcet's Syndrome, a strange and incurable disease rare in the US but common in the Middle East and Asia. At that time, she was hurting badly, but medication has brought it under control.

And so, she is now back to her tough self. Only one woman in the world can beat her when she's healthy, and that woman--Allyson Felix--had to choose between this event and her specialty, the 200. Save another disease flareup, feel safe to bet the mortgage on this one. The race will be for second.

That race has many contenders and should be a fantastic one. Any of a half a dozen athletes figure to be in the mix. So far this year Kapachinskaia and Novlene Williams have been the most impressive, but Ohurougu and Nicola Sanders peaked brilliantly last year to take the first two spots at the Worlds and cannot be discounted. Wineberg is another year stronger and wiser, as is Shericka Williams. Russian champ Yulia Guschina has only that one 400 race to hang her hat on, but any Russian women's champ has to be respected (and she's run very well at the 200). I would say every finalist has a realistic shot at a medal.

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