My Pick For Rio: Men’s 400m

Time and Date of Men’s 400m Final: 22:00 BRT (14 AUG) / 03:00 CEST (15 AUG) 

Defending Olympic Champion from London 2012: Kirani James

The 100m, 200m and 400m are my favourite events in all of track and field, but the event I like to watch the most is probably the 400m. It’s a much more strategic race where the athletes have to be patient and trust their fitness and endurance. But at its core it’s still a sprint event, only not as dramatic and nerve-wracking as the other two. The 400m used to be dominated by American sprinters, but times are changing and there were no US men in the final of the last Olympics. It has become a truly globally contested event, with talented athletes coming from every corner of the world. In the final of last year’s World Championships in Beijing we’ve for the first time in history seen three athletes run under 44 seconds in the same race. All three of them are back this year and all three of them will be very optimistic about their chances of winning an Olympic gold. I write about them at the bottom of the page, but I start with some of the other contenders.

Honorable mention: Luka Janežič (Slovenia). He’s already our national record holder with 45.22 despite being just 21 years old. With proper care and training he might go well under 45 seconds in the future. His advantage is his height (1.92 m) and a consequently long stride. He’s also powerfully built, but he has to be slightly careful that he doesn’t add more unnecessary muscle mass. Building strength without gaining too much mass is something that I think he’ll have to work on. Reaching the semi-finals in Rio would be a big achievement – for himself and for our country.

Luguelín Santos (Dominican Republic). He’s just 22, but already has an Olympic silver medal to his name from 4 years ago when he was just a teenager. His best time this year is just 45.47, but he’s one of those people that are always ready when it matters. He can definitely make another global championship final this year, but it’ll be extremely tough. Keep an eye on him though.

Baboloki Thebe (Botswana). One of the new kids on the block made his senior breakthrough this May by running 44.22 (altitude assisted) which makes him the 4th fastest man in the world this season. First time I’ve seen him run was in the 200m at the 2014 World Junior Championships in Eugene, but I didn’t see or hear much from him ever since. He seems to have matured into a fine long sprinter though, and I’ll be watching him with great interest. He can realistically make the final with the speed that he has, but we’ll have to see if he can successfully navigate through the rounds.

Isaac Makwala (Botswana). A regular competitor on the international circuit in the last few years and the 7th fastest man in history with 43.72 (albeit on the verge of being an altitude assisted time), he has yet to make his mark in the final of a global championship. He was 5th last year at the Beijing World Championships and I don’t see how he could possibly improve on that this year. But watch him because he always gets out extremely fast in the first 200-300m.

Machel Cedenio (Trinidad and Tobago). He’s just 20 years old, but is already a hugely promising athlete. A newly acquired PB of 44.34 makes him the 5th fastest man to be going to Rio and from what I’ve seen of him so far, I expect him to be in the final. And given the unpredictable nature of the event, anything can happen if he gets there. We might just see him very high up in the rankings.

Lalonde Gordon (Trinidad and Tobago). The older and more experienced Trinidadian (he’s 27) has a season best time of 44.69, but I expect him to go lower than that in Rio. He’s a bronze medalist from London 2012, but just making the final this year should be a big achievement. He’s someone to look out for, but I don’t expect anything really special from him.

The next three are the athletes that I think have almost the same odds of winning the final.

Kirani James (Grenada). The prodigy from a country of just over one hundred thousand people has won every single major title, and he did it all as a teenager. His last missing piece of the puzzle was an Olympic title which came in August of 2012, just one month before his 20th birthday. Other athletes didn’t let him stay so dominant in the years since then, but he’s still without a doubt one of the best three 400m runners in the world. Kirani is one of my favourite athletes because he’s a role model even outside the track. He’s humble, very articulate with his words and always puts a great deal of emphasis and importance on education. He respects every one of his competitors and is a very smart racer. His season best is 44.08 and I hope that he’ll be able to go under his PB of 43.74 in Rio. He might have to if he wants to defend his title.

LaShawn Merritt (USA). The second most decorated athlete in the history of IAAF World Championships and also a one time Olympic champion at the 400m from Beijing 2008 is definitely one of the biggest favourites for gold in Rio. The 400m event was more of a young men’s affair in some of the recent years, but at the age of 30, Merritt is at a stage of his career where he has an ideal mix of experience, speed and strength. His recent exploits in the 200m prove that he’s as fast as ever and last year he lowered his 400m PB down to 43.65 when he won silver in Beijing. He is immensely powerful and holds his form beautifully in the final 100m. I believe he’s the biggest threat for gold next to van Niekerk.

Wayde van Niekerk (South Africa).  Last year in Beijing he became the 4th fastest man in history by winning gold in a time of 43.48 s. It might have been a once in a lifetime occurrence, but in the year since then he’s proved to us that there’s more to him than just that one amazing performance. He’s become the first man ever to dip under all three “magic” barriers in sprinting: 44 s in the 400m, 20 s in the 200m (19.94) and 10 s in the 100m (9.98). This June he also ran and won the unconventional 300m in Kingston against a world class field containing Merritt and Makwala. His time of 31.03 s makes him 3rd in the all time rankings, only behind Michael Johnson (30.85 at altitude) and Usain Bolt (30.97). The season seems to be going well for him and with a best time of 44.11 and a couple of other fairly easy-looking 44 second runs it’s looking like he’s pacing his form really well for Rio. He’s one of the outstanding athletes in the world at the moment, but you probably wouldn’t think so at first glance. He’s not a big man compared to some of the other 400m runners, but he’s got great power to weight ratio (1.83 m, 70 kg) and a wonderful technique. I want to see more fast times from this generation and that’s why I’m hoping we get to see the best of van Niekerk in Rio. If we do, then Michael Johnson’s Olympic record of 43.49 s from Atlanta 1996 is in big danger.

I expect we’ll see another three-horse race between James, Merritt and van Niekerk. But the latter is my pick for gold.


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