Four years ago, LaShawn Merritt stood on the podium in Beijing, China, with a gold medal around his neck after dominating the 400-meter final by a record .99 seconds.
Now, the sport's marquee event is back... and so is Merritt. After a turbulent four years, Merritt is preparing for a return to prominence, with much of his time spent working with Loren Seagrave, IMG Academy' Director of Speed and Movement and a noted sprint expert.
Merritt -- speaking in earnest, confident and excited tones -- recently took some time out from training to chat about everything from his memories from 2008 to an NFL player challenging him to a race with $100,000 and his gold medal on the line.
LaShawn Merritt on...
...his passive start into track:I started baseball at like six years old, then started playing football and had the same coach for both. He took us to a track meet at Norfolk State when I was in 5th grade. It was the first track meet I had ever seen and that one-on-one competition really stuck with me. You can't blame someone else. There's no hiding. It's a âLet your hard work be your confidenceâ type of thing. I started running in 9th grade, then starting running the 400 my junior year and won the state title. I only ran it because my coach said, âReal men run the 400.â
I was always fast, though. In baseball, I was always stealing bases. I was the pinch runner who always had the green light to go.
...the talent pool around his hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia: Michael Vick is from the area. Allen Iverson. DeAngelo Hall. There's a lot of raw talent. I wasn't even the most talented athlete in my area, but I stood out because I worked hard. There's nothing really there, so I knew I had to do something. I've seen too many people with talent just throw it away.
...his memory of the 2008 Olympics: I felt good going into that day because I ran a 44.12 in the semis. I knew I was prepared and there was nothing else I could do but show up and show out.
I remember at about 360 meters, looking over my shoulder and seeing nobody there. I told myself before the race not to look around and stay focused, but I couldn't feel anyone around me, so I had to look. I couldn't even hear the crowd for a second. I was so focused on making it just another race that it didn't hit me at first.
I was so happy and excited, but it was a relief that all of the work paid off. There are days when I literally can't walk 10 meters without stopping and nights when I catch cramps in my legs.
...the toughest part about his suspension in 2009:People are going to think I was a cheat, but I've proven myself. I came back and ran how I should run. I was cleared by the top people to the point that it resulted in a rule change. People are going to say or think what they want, and I can't change that. I feel like I'm tough mentally. This is what I love to do and what I train hard to do. When I came back, people thought I was going to run 45 something and I ran 44.7, and people were shocked. To me, nothing had changed. It's what I do.
...his relationship with fellow American and 400-meter runner Jeremy Wariner: He's cool. I've always said it's like a co-worker situation and we're fighting for the same position or the same raise. There's a level of respect. But because of the nature of the sport, you can't give too much love. We both want to beat each other. When we get on the relay, it's like, âLet's go handle our business.â
...working with Seagrave at IMG Academy: He's a great coach. I got to a place in my career where I've been doing the same event and working in the same program since I was 17. With IMG, I have a place where I can totally focus, have great weather, be able to train every day, have great facilities and have a coach who could take my talents to the next level. His knowledge of sprinting, biomechanics, efficiencies and technique makes him a great coach. He's deep with it.
...running the 100: It's the sexy event. It's the whole âWorld's Fastest Manâ because it's in a straight line from point A to point B. I've thought about it, but they are running too crazy now and it's a completely different type of training. I do want to be the first man to run a 43 in the 400, 19 in the 200 and under 10 in the 100. Michael Johnson ran a 43, 19 and like a 10.06. I'm going to try it after the Olympics.
...the $100,000 challenge from Washington Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall: He is from the same area as me, and his agent was having a pool party right after the Olympics. D-Hall is a trash talker, so of course he started talking that he could beat me in a race. I just won the gold medal so I wasn't hearing any of it. He was going to put up $100,000 against my gold medal. He wanted to do a 40-yard dash, but we settled on the 100-meter. Nothing ever came of it, though.