U.S. 400m dominance never more apparent than at World Outdoor Championships


Tom Surber
Media Information Manager
USA Track & Field
317-261-0478 x317

In anticipation of the 10th IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships later this summer, USATF will take a look back at many of the great moments provided by U.S. athletes at the previous nine World Outdoor Championships, and look forward to 2005, with a series of feature stories. The series will continue until the beginning of the 2005 World Outdoor Championships, August 5-14 in Helsinki, Finland.

INDIANAPOLIS - During his magnificent career, National Track & Field Hall of Famer Michael Johnson set a tremendous precedent by winning four of the six men's 400m gold medals won by U.S. athletes in World Outdoor Track & Field Championships history. Today's stars, led by 2004 Olympic medalists Jeremy Wariner, Otis Harris and Derrick Brew, will try to add to Johnson's 400m legacy at the 2005 World Outdoor Track & Field Championships this summer in Helsinki.

After silver and bronze from Michael Franks and Sunder Nix, respectively, in 1983, Butch Reynolds took Bronze for Team USA at the 1987 World Outdoor Championships. Four years later, Antonio Pettigrew won the first Worlds 400m gold by an American, in 1991 - the same year Michael Johnson won the 200. Danny Everett added bronze.

Johnson's reign of four consecutive 400m world titles began in 1993 at Stuttgart, Germany, where he ran the third 100 meters in a blistering 10.47 seconds en-route to posting the then third-fastest time in history of 43.65 seconds. World record holder Butch Reynolds was the runner-up in 44.13, with 1992 Olympic gold medalist Quincy Watts placing fourth (45.05) after the sole of his left shoe broke during the race.

At Gothenburg in 1995, Johnson and Reynolds finished 1-2 again, as Johnson grabbed the gold medal in 43.39 seconds, just 0.10 away from Reynolds' world record. Johnson's winning margin over Reynolds (0.17) was the largest winning margin at a world championships or Olympic Games since 1896.

After sustaining an injury in June of 1997, Johnson became the first ever to win a third world championships 400m title later that summer with his gutsy performance in Athens, Greece. Johnson, who nearly failed to qualify for the semifinals after placing fourth in his quarterfinal race, was not at his best in the final, but he proved his champion's mettle in capturing the gold medal in 44.12 seconds. Tyree Washington, who won the silver medal at the 2003 Worlds in Paris, grabbed the bronze medal with his time of 44.39 seconds.

Johnson closed out his world championships career in style in 1999 in Seville, Spain, when he won his fourth 400m gold medal with a world record performance.

Johnson entered the Championships in remarkable shape and virtually walked across the finish line in his semifinal in 43.95 seconds, which led many pundits to predict a world record in the final. The record was considered such a certainty that USATF had a press release prepared announcing the world record prior to the competition, needing only to add Johnson's time at the completion of the race. USATF also had a contest among U.S. reporters to guess Johnson's world record time (Ken Stephens of the Dallas Morning News was the winner).

Running out of lane 5, Johnson covered the first 100m in 11.10 seconds and hit 200m at 21.22. He passed the 300m mark in 31.66, before completing the final 100m in a ridiculous 11.52 seconds. Johnson's phenomenal world record time of 43.18 seconds bettered Reynolds' previous WR by 11/100ths of a second.

What about Helsinki?

In looking forward to the 2005 World Outdoor Championships, prospects for a men's 400m medal sweep have never looked brighter for Team USA. After sweeping all the 400m medals at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, achieving that same goal for the first time at a World Outdoor Championships is a distinct possibility in Helsinki.

Jeremy Wariner, Otis Harris and Derrick Brew finished 1-2-3 respectively in Athens, and also ended the 2004 campaign world-ranked in that identical order by Track & Field News. Wariner is off to a great start already this season, having posted the world's fastest time this year of 44.53 seconds in winning the adidas Track Classic May 20 in Carson, Calif.

Up-and-comer LaShawn Merritt is considered a top contender for the team after posting the second-fastest time in the world this year (44.66 seconds) with his May 7 win in Kingston, Jamaica. Darold Williamson, who ran the anchor leg on Team USA's gold medal winning 4x400m relay squad in Athens, is also a threat to make the team, along with fellow relay gold medalists Andrew Rock and Kellie Willie.

The competition to qualify for the Team USA roster in the men's 400 meters at the USA Championships in June will be fierce, and whoever qualifies to compete at the World Championships will be fortunate to have the chance to end up on the podium in Helsinki.