Here we go again, the level of quality in the 400m continues to get better and better. Michael Norman recently opened up his 2019 season with a monster run of 43.45 seconds, the 6th fastest mark of all time! It makes him the joint 4th fastest man ever, and he’s only 21 years old … 

400M ALL-TIME TOP 10 MARKS

 1. 43.03 Wayde van Niekerk  (2016)
 2. 43.18 Michael Johnson  (1999)
 3. 43.29 Butch Reynolds  (1988)
 4. 43.39 Michael Johnson  (1995)
 5. 43.44 Michael Johnson  (1996) 
 6. 43.45 Jeremy Wariner  (2007)
 6. 43.45 Michael Norman  (2019)
 8. 43.48 Wayde van Niekerk  (2015)
 9. 43.49 Michael Johnson  (1996)
10. 43.50 Quincy Watts  (1992)

Fastest Opener

43.45 is the fastest season opener ever, so it’s no surprise that it created a huge buzz in the track community. Talks about the first sub 43 second run in the 400m are back on everyone’s menu after being on hold for the better part of a year during which the world record holder, Wayde van Niekerk, was recovering from an unfortunate rugby injury.

Norman’s time is also special due to the fact that it was achieved at a relatively small meet in mid-April. Performances like this were previously reserved only for global championships later in the season.

Just watch this poetry in motion from Norman in lane 5 as he powers down the backstretch and gradually separates himself from his friend Rai Benjamin in lane 4. His strength in the last 100 meters of the race is something to behold.

Is Norman peaking too soon?

Even the great 400m athletes usually open their season with something like a 45.5 or a high 44 at best. Any faster, and we would quietly expect them to burn out until the end of the season. To have an athlete open up with 43.5 is just outrageous.

Norman’s coach is Quincy Watts, a 400m gold medallist from the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. He surely knows a thing or two about periodization and getting an athlete into shape at the right time, so I’m convinced that Norman isn’t peaking too early.

Proper speed work is almost never done this early into the season, which is why it’s scary to think what this kid can do at full potential.

Is a 42 second run back on the cards?

Maybe an American record? Michael Johnson’s 43.18 is now just 0.27 seconds away.

Michael Norman seems to be on an almost alien level of preparation right now. And let’s not forget that van Niekerk ran 43.48 one year before his world record of 43.03. This means that Norman is already ahead of van Niekerk’s 2nd best time.

But we really don’t have enough data points to accurately predict whether this was a fluke or if Norman is really on the road to an even faster time. Whatever the case may be, he is currently an outstanding favorite for the 400m title at the World Championships in Doha in October, even with the extreme quality of the playing field.

There may be a question mark over Norman’s mental preparation, but he seems to have this carefree, game-time attitude when it comes to racing, so I find it hard to believe that he would buckle under the pressure of competing on the sport’s biggest stage.

It’s such a shame that Wayde van Niekerk may never return to his pre-injury best. I certainly don’t see him defending the title this year. Not with Norman and others pushing him to times below 43.5.

What do I really think?

I believe that Norman definitely has the potential for 43.0. I just don’t see a possibility that the coaches botched it up and that he is peaking in April. But let’s not forget that dropping nearly 0.5 seconds in a sprint event is no joke. We are talking about a couple of meters of difference, so let’s just wait and see how the season pans out.

I personally can’t wait. The gauntlet has been thrown down in a big way.

Žiga P. Škraba