Kirani James wins the 400m in a close finish at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Eugene (© Kirby Lee)
Almost without fail, every 400m race between Kirani James and LaShawn Merritt brings excitement, drama and a close finish; especially at the Prefontaine Classic, where they will clash for a fourth time at the IAAF Diamond League meeting on 29-30 May.
James leads their career head-to-head record at 8-5. One of his wins was in Eugene last year, which produced the most exciting finish in the meeting’s history, as James edged Merritt while both clocked 43.97, just shy of Michael Johnson’s meeting record of 43.92.
James won their first matchup as an 18-year-old at the 2011 IAAF World Championships, defeating the then-reigning world and Olympic champion in a stirring homestretch battle. A year later in London, James became the tiny island’s first Olympic champion in any event.
Merritt owns some incredible finishes of his own in this matchup. His 2013 Prefontaine Classic win over James was by just 0.07. He finished a similar distance ahead of James in Eugene one year earlier, but James was running under protest after a false start and was later disqualified.
As if their on-track clashes aren’t close enough, the pair is similarly matched on paper. They have each won gold medals at the World Championships and Olympics, and they have identical PBs of 43.74.
While pre-race attention will logically gravitate to James and Merritt, an intriguing collection of world-class elite runners are also ready to line up.
African champion Isaac Makwala owns every national record of Botswana from 100m to 400m, setting all of them last year. But his performances over 200m and 400m on 6 July 2014 formed the best ever one-day double in the long sprints.
Competing in the Swiss mountain town of La Chaux-de-Fonds, Makwala began with an African record of 44.01 in the 400m, then came back 90 minutes later to add a 19.96 in the 200m.
Abdalelah Haroun of Qatar is only 18 years old and is yet to lose a recorded race. He burst on to the international scene earlier this year, clocking the fastest indoor debut 400m in history with an Asian indoor record of 45.39. Outdoors this year, he has already twice clocked a national junior record of 44.68. This will be his first race on US soil.
World silver medallist Tony McQuay recorded the USA’s fastest splits in the 4x400m at the past two global championships, earning him Olympic silver in 2012 and world gold in 2013. He once again clocked the fastest split of the team at the recent IAAF/BTC World Relays, Bahamas 2015, helping the USA win gold.
Chris Brown is one of The Bahamas’ greatest athletes, having competed at every Olympics and World Championships since 1999. The 2010 world indoor champion played a key role in The Bahamas’ 4x400m victory at the 2012 Olympics. Now 36, last month he became the oldest man to run a sub-45-second 400m.
Saudi Arabia’s Youssef Ahmed Masrahi set an Asian record of 44.43 last year and then came within 0.03 of the mark to win the Asian Games title.
World indoor champion Pavel Maslak lowered the Czech record to 44.79 last year before being forced to sit out the rest of the season through injury. Now back to his best, he recently won his second European indoor title.
Organisers for the IAAF
2015 IAAF Diamond League calendar
Doha, QAT – 15 May
Shanghai, CHN – 17 May
Eugene, USA – 30 May
Rome, ITA – 4 June
Birmingham, GBR – 7 June
Oslo, NOR – 11 June
New York, USA – 13 June
Paris, FRA – 4 July
Lausanne, SUI – 9 July
Monaco, MON – 17 July
London, GBR – 24-25 July
Stockholm, SWE – 30 July
Zurich, SUI – 3 September
Brussels, BEL – 11 September