Michael Norman celebrates his 400m win at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 (© Getty Images)
For years, Michael Norman has been considered the next great US 400m runner, only to fall short in the pressure moments on the big stage.
Finally, he delivered when it counted.
At last, he can call himself a global champion.
In a career-defining race, Norman pulled away from the field on the final straight to win gold in the men’s 400m on Friday night (22) at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22.
Wearing his trademark white head band, Norman overtook 2011 world and 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada with about 80 metres to go and powered to the finish in 44.29.
As if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, Norman threw up both arms as he crossed the line. He looked almost more relieved than ecstatic as he took in his breakthrough victory before an adoring home crowd at Eugene’s Hayward Field.
After all the previous disappointments, the pressure was off.
Redemption felt good.
“It is an amazing feeling for sure,” the 24-year-old Norman said. “Just to come out here, on let's say a home track, and pull out with a gold individual medal. It is going to be memorable. I want to remember what took me here and I am just thankful to everybody who supported me throughout the whole career.”
In winning his first individual major senior title, Norman also became the first US world champion in the 400m since LaShawn Merritt in 2013.
James took the silver in 44.48, giving him a complete set of medals from both the Olympics and World Championships. Matthew Hudson-Smith grabbed bronze in 44.66 for Britain’s first global medal in the event in 31 years.
Champion Allison of the US finished fourth in 44.77, with two-time world champion and world record-holder Wayde Van Niekerk of South Africa fading to fifth in 44.97.
For Norman, victory was the only option. Gold was the medal he needed to back up his as-yet unfulfilled reputation as one of the greatest quarter-milers of his generation. His career personal best of 43.45 is tied for fourth on the world all-time list, yet Norman had been unable to put it all together at global championships.
“This moment here is going to be remembered forever,” he said after Friday’s race, “so I wanted to make sure that all the people who are the closest to me, who understood what my objective was this year, will never try to get me out of my path of success and will never doubt myself.”
Norman had been considered one of the favourites at the 2019 World Championships in Doha and at last year’s Tokyo Olympics. But he left without a medal each time, eliminated in the 2019 World Championships semifinals with a hamstring injury and fading to fifth place in the Tokyo final.
After his performance in Tokyo, where he went on to collect gold in the 4x400m, Norman said he went “back to basics” in winter training under coach Quincy Watts.
“It took a lot of work to get where I was,” he said. “Obviously last year was not a good year for me so I had to do a lot of hard work just to kind of get back to where I was.”
The work paid off. Norman looked in supreme form this year ahead of the World Championships, going unbeaten, running under 44 seconds twice and winning his second US title.
Running at Hayward Field didn’t hurt either.
Friday’s triumph marked Norman’s seventh win, including heats, on the same track in six weeks. He broke Michael Johnson’s 22-year-old meeting record and set a Diamond League record when he clocked 43.60 to win the 400m at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene on 28 May, then captured the national title last month in 43.56.
Missing from Friday’s field was defending world and Olympic champion Steven Gardiner of The Bahamas, who withdrew a few days before the championships due to a tendon injury.
But Norman still faced a field with big names, and this time he made no mistake.
The versatile US sprinter started in lane four, with James on his inside in lane three and Van Niekerk out in lane seven. Norman got off to a solid start and stayed near.
When the runners came around the final bend, Norman was a step behind James, with Hudson-Smith and Van Niekerk also in close contention. But Norman found an extra gear, accelerated past James on the straight and never looked back.
Now he can only look forward to the possibility of more gold medals.
“It will take some time to reflect what it means to be a champion and to understand what it takes to be better,” Norman said. “I have to stay disciplined. I just wanted to make sure that I did everything that I could have possibly done to become the new world champion.”
He’ll likely have a chance to add another title in the men’s 4x400m. The heats take place Saturday and the final on Sunday.
The 29-year-old James won his third world medal, adding silver to his gold from 2011 and bronze from 2015. The Grenadian already has gold, silver and bronze from the past three Olympic Games.
“I knew it was always going to be a battle with Michael,” James said. “I thought I had a good advantage to beat him to see him in front of me. But catching him, it is never going to be easy.”
Hudson-Smith, 27, a five-time British champion and 2018 European champion, became Britain’s first medallist in the 400m since Roger Black claimed silver in 1991.
”I was ready to get a medal and got it,” he said. “That is all what really matters. I just looked forward. I just kept going. I could feel someone but I just did not know who it was. I just went and finally got a medal.”
Van Niekerk, 30, the world champion in 2015 and 2017 and Olympic champion in 2016, has been battling injuries and had competed only once this year before the World Championships.
“Hopefully next time I am on the podium,” the South African said.
For Norman, meanwhile, the goal of standing on top of the podium is finally complete.
Steve Wilson for World Athletics
|MEN'S 400m MEDALLISTS
|Michael Norman 🇺🇸 USA
|Kirani James 🇬🇩 GRN
|Matthew Hudson-Smith 🇬🇧 GBR