EUGENE, Ore. — There was a moment when it could have been déjà vu all over again for LaShawn Merritt and Kirani James, just like last year at the world championships in Daegu, coming down the stretch in the 400.
But it wasn’t.
Instead, this was a clear case of role reversal.
Which means it’s really on heading into London. Because, as Merritt observed, this was a field so loaded it sure looked like an Olympic final Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic.
Last year in Daegu, James caught Merritt about three meters from the finish line, then passed him to become the first-ever medalist from Grenada. Now 19, James is a two-time NCAA champion at the University of Alabama.
On Saturday, Merritt, the 2008 Olympic champion, clearly showing that he has returned to form, caught James coming down the stretch. He poured it on for a decisive victory, finishing in 44.91 seconds.
James finished in 44.97.
You won’t find that 44.97 in the official records of the race.
Officially, James didn’t even run.
He false-started, and then ran the race under protest, a protest that was promptly denied.
James — this is an amazing statistic — has never lost a race run outdoors. Because this race will show in the books as a DQ, it won’t count against that mark.
To James, however, it felt like a loss. Which, let’s be real — it was.
“Of course, it’s a loss,” he said. “I actually ran the race.”
He said of the false-start, offering no excuses, “It’s entirely my fault,” adding he was simply “anticipating too much.”
And he said, “It’s a learning experience. I’d rather have it happen here” than, say, the Olympic final.
Christopher Brown of the Bahamas was upgraded to second. He finished in 45.24.
Angelo Taylor of the United States was moved up to third. His time: 45.59.
American Jeremy Wariner, the 2004 400 Olympic champ, was not a factor. He was bumped up to fifth in the final standings, at 45.58.
Oscar Pistorius, the South African “Blade Runner” who needs to run under 45.30 one more time to meet his nation’s qualifying standards for the London Games ran 46.86.
He ran 45.20 in March.
“Today, there is nobody to blame but myself,” he said.
Usain Bolt is far and away the best-known name in the world in track and field. No one else — for emphasis, no one — is close. Pistorius is arguably second; all over the world, people are rooting for him to make it.
He has two, perhaps three, more chances, including next week in New York.
“It’s not nice as an athlete when you’ve worked hard and the times aren’t coming but that’s part of the game sometimes,” Pistorius said. “I have to re-focus after this and get some fuel in the tank for the next race.”
It is of course conceivable that Pistorius does not meet the 45.30 time again. If not?
“I guess then I won’t go,” he said. “They haven’t given us that side of the coin. The requirement is that we have to run the time twice.”
For Merritt, it’s all coming together. Last year, he was just coming back from a lengthy suspension served after taking a male-enhancement product. “In Daegu,” he said, “there were a lot of things I did that my mind and my body didn’t connect.”
That is, he would tell himself to go faster — but there was no there there.
This year, it’s there.
“It’s a matter of your mind and your body connecting,” he said. “I’ve worked on some things. I came here and I knew what that race was going to be.”
He also said, looking forward to the Trials, “I’m coming to run.” So, too, are the others: “Everybody’s coming to run this year,” LaShawn Merritt said, with a smile that said he was ready for anyone and everyone to bring it on.