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Merritt versus James rivalry in 400 metres takes centre stage at world championships

By Pat Graham


BEIJING _ Bolt vs. Gatlin isn’t the only rivalry going on in track these days.

Kirani James against LaShawn Merritt in the 400 metres is pretty entertaining, too. The heavyweights square off Wednesday night in their final at the world championships.

“(This rivalry) always brings an interest to the sport, which is a good thing,” said James, who is from Grenada and went to school at Alabama.

Granted, it’s not Usain Bolt versus Justin Gatlin, who both advanced to Wednesday’s 200-meter semifinals. That one is generating all the headlines, especially with Bolt being portrayed as good for the sport while Gatlin has been cast as the villain because of his doping past.

The plot line in the 400 is this: The 22-year-old (James) taking on the savvy veteran (Merritt). Merritt won at the worlds in 2013 as James faded all the way to seventh. In 2011, James used a late surge to beat Merritt.

Both also have Olympic gold medals _ Merritt at the 2008 Beijing Games and James from London.

“He’s a champion. We both are,” Merritt said. “We’ve won at the highest levels several times. We’ll get ready, get our minds right, get our body’s right and then get ready for the final.”

Asked what made Merritt so dangerous, James shrugged and responded: “His experience. When you have the experience that he has and the talent and the work ethic, it makes him a great all-around athlete.”

Merritt was equally as complimentary.

An admiration fest before their grudge match. But James was careful to point out that anything can happen in this full-lap race and that there are “a lot of guys in our event capable of doing great things.”

Like Wayde Van Niekerk of South Africa. Or Isaac Makwala of Botswana, who has the fastest time in the world this season.

“This is one of the best years we’ve had in the event,” Merritt said. “I’m feeling good. My body is feeling good. Now, I just have to go and execute. There are a couple of guys in there capable of running fast times. I can run a fast time, too. Because I train to win.”

Here are some things to know about Day 5 of the world championships:



The Americans have never had a medallist in the women’s steeplechase, but Emma Coburn could end that drought. The University of Colorado product is a four-time national champion in the discipline. The favourite will be 2012 London Olympics silver medallist Habiba Ghribi of Tunisia. She has the fastest time this season.



Bolt is running both sprint events. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce will not, electing to skip the 200 after dominating the 100 in a very Bolt-like way on Monday. That opens thing up, especially with Olympic champion Allyson Felix also bypassing the event so she can concentrate on the 400. Dafne Schippers of the Netherlands comes in with loads of confidence after winning silver in the 100.



Olympic pole vault champion Jenn Suhr tries to win her first gold at the worlds. The American finished second two years ago in Moscow. Yarisley Silva of Cuba has the top mark this season. She lost on count-backs to Suhr at the London Games.



All three places in the javelin at the worlds in 2013 were decided by the slimmest of margins _ 94 centimetres, to be precise. Vitezslav Vesely of the Czech Republic walked away with gold in Moscow. Julius Yego of Kenya has the top mark this season.



Zuzana Hejnova of the Czech Republic is the defending world champion in the 400-meter hurdles. But Kaliese Spencer of Jamaica has been tough to beat, winning 12 of 13 hurdles races a season ago. Spencer started off strong this season, but has been bothered by a foot injury.

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