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Lashawn Merritt: Everybody's human

Published:Sunday | July 17, 2016 | 12:00 AMHubert Lawrence
Usain Bolt
Lashawn Merritt of the United States
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Lashawn Merritt, the USA 400 metre Olympic Trials winner, will be one of Usain Bolt's rivals in the 200 metres at the Rio Olympic Games and he seems to be looking forward to the challenge. Merritt placed second to Justin Gatlin in the 200 metres after winning his pet event earlier in the Trials.

Merritt, the 2008 Olympic 400 metre champion, raced to a time of 19.78 seconds in an early season race and pundits believed he was sharpening his speed to face World 400 champion Wayde van Niekerk of South Africa in the Olympics. He lowered that personal best of 19.74 in the Trials semi and revealed his intent to do both events in Rio de Janeiro after a narrow loss to Gatlin in the final.

Speaking to www.teamusa.org, the 30 year-old American recalled his races with Bolt in the past. "I've raced him in a 200m", he said of a 2006 meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, "and he's beaten me in a 200". "He's raced me in the 400m and I beat him in Kingston one year," he reminisced on an encounter at the 2007 Jamaica Invitational. "We've lined up - he's human, everybody's human," he said.

Bolt placed third and Merritt was fifth in the 2006 Lausanne 200m, 19.88 to 20.10 seconds. The tall Jamaican set his 400m personal best when Merritt won the following year in Kingston. Bolt clocked 45.28 seconds in third behind Merritt's winning time of 44.95.

"I look at him," he said, evaluating Bolt, "well, he runs really fast in the 200m."

American Michael Johnson is the only man to win both events in a single Olympics. Johnson achieved that feat in 1996. If Merritt is to match that, he will have to outrun reigning Olympic 400m champion Kirani James of Grenada and van Niekerk in the longer event and Bolt and Gatlin in the 200 metres. In Rio, he will also face a schedule tighter than at the US Trials. At the Olympics, there is just one day of rest between the 400m and 200m. At the Trials, the break was three days.