Antonio Watson wins the 400m at the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23 (© Getty Images)
In a deep field that had two former world champions headlining the race – one of them also being the world record-holder – not every youngster would have the presence of mind to go all out to challenge the status quo. But that’s exactly what 21-year-old Antonio Watson did in the men’s 400m final on day six of the World Athletics Championships Budapest 23.
In the absence of the top three fastest men in 2023, two of whom have broken 44 seconds this season, Thursday’s final was thrown open. And it was the 2017 world U18 gold medallist who rose to the occasion, coming from behind to drive through the line and strike gold in his first global final at senior level with an impressive 44.24 clocking - the second-fastest time of his career.
Watson also becomes the first Jamaican gold medallist in the event since the legendary Bert Cameron won the title at the inaugural World Athletics Championships in 1983.
The bronze medallist from Oregon, Great Britain’s Matthew Hudson-Smith, had dominated the first half of the race, but tired as he approached the finish, going one better to take the silver in 44.31.
The Commonwealth Games silver medallist came to Budapest with a lifetime best of 44.35, and sped to a European record of 44.26 in the semifinals, breaking Thomas Schonlebe’s 26-year-old record of 44.33, set at the 1987 World Championships in Rome. He no doubt aimed to become the first British man to win the coveted title, but will have to be content with silver for now.
USA’s 2019 NCAA champion Quincy Hall made a late surge to beat his compatriot Vernon Norwood to bronze after clocking a lifetime best of 44.37, 0.02 better than the latter.
Earlier in the evening, Watson’s teammate Danielle Williams had set the pace with her triumph in a keenly-contested women’s 100m hurdles final, reclaiming the crown she first won in 2015, and with Wayne Pinnock and Tajay Gayle taking silver and bronze respectively in the men’s long jump, the Jamaican sprinter knew he had his work cut out.
The silver medallist from the 2018 Youth Olympics, who is coached by the legendary Glen Mills (who guided multiple world record-holder Usain Bolt) was ranked 29th and started in Budapest with a lifetime best of 44.54 set at the Jamaican Trials, where he finished second to Sean Bailey. As such, no one had anticipated that he would ruffle the feathers of the big boys.
Having identified South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk – the world record-holder – as his idol, Budapest handed him the opportunity of sharing the stage with the two-time world champion and 2016 Olympic gold medallist.
Twice he got the chance to race alongside the South African and twice he made the most of the window of opportunity he’d been handed, using the races as launching pads to the next level in his budding career.
Watson’s flashes of brilliance had come to the fore during the semifinals. Drawn in heat one along with Van Niekerk, who was unbeaten this year and ranked No.1, and the equally experienced Norwood, a three-time world gold medallist in the 4x400m, the Jamaican was the newcomer in this elite field.
It didn’t matter. Watson sprung a surprise as he dug deep to upstage the rest the field, blazing to a 44.13 PB to become the joint third-fastest Jamaican in history alongside Nathon Allen, and just behind McDonald (43.93) and Akeem Bloomfield (43.94).
Norwood ran a strong 60m to cross the line ahead of the Olympic gold medallist from Rio in a PB of 44.26, leaving Van Niekerk in the unfamiliar position of fighting for a spot in the final through a non-automatic place.
He eventually got it, unlike the world leader and 2019 gold medallist Steven Gardiner, who appeared to suffer a hamstring injury and did not finish, with a similar fate befalling one of Africa’s hopefuls, Botswana’s Bayapo Ndori.
But it appeared Van Niekerk never recovered from the ordeal as he remained somewhat invisible in the final, eventually placing a distant seventh (45.11), the second slowest time he’s run this season.
The 31-year-old has faced an uphill task trying to return to his dominant form since suffering a career-threatening injury during a celebrity touch rugby match in 2017.
It was also a race to forget for 2011 world gold medallist Kirani James of Grenada, who has won all three shades of medals at both the World Championships and Olympics. He had initially finished in fifth but was subsequently disqualified for a lane violation.
Watson’s teammate and Tokyo Olympics finalist Bailey settled for fifth with a time of 44.96, while the youngest athlete in the field, European U23 gold medallist Havard Bentdal Ingvaldsen of Norway, who set a national record of 44.39 in the heats and is one of the revelations in the event, finished sixth (45.08).
Yemi Olus-Galadima for World Athletics
|MEN'S 400m MEDALLISTS|
|🥇||Antonio Watson 🇯🇲 JAM||44.22|
|🥈||Matthew Hudson-Smith 🇬🇧 GBR||44.31|
|🥉||Quincy Hall 🇺🇸 USA||44.37|
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