LaShawn Merritt wins the 400m as Kirani James places 2nd at Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, Jun 1, 2013. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

LaShawn Merritt wins the 400m as Kirani James places 2nd at Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, Jun 1, 2013. Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian

by Michael Bascombe

Coverage courtesy “LIME-Value Every Moment”

EUGENE, Oregon, June 2, 2013 –The former World and Olympic 400 metres champion has a message for the man, who disrupted his reign, you may be younger than I am “but I am not old at all.”

American LaShawn Merritt, who surrendered his World and Olympic titles to Kirani James of Grenada, said he is motivated by his current form and on track for a return to competitiveness.

Merritt held off a late surge from James on Saturday at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon to square the duel between two of the fastest quarter-milers in the world. Merritt edged James in a season’s best 44.32 seconds. James clocked 44.39 and American Tony McQuay was third in 45.31.

Last month James won the one-lap event convincingly at the Diamond League in Shanghai, China.

Merritt, who will be 27 this month, is not concerned about age but rather his health and preparation for the IAAF World Championships in Athletics. In particular reference to James, who turns 21 a few weeks after the Championships in Moscow, the American runner believes age will not be a factor.

“I know he (Kirani) works hard and he’s growing every year. He understands the race but I am not going anywhere. It’s sort of like I am the older guy in these races but I still feel young, only 26. So I take that in consideration and know that they are just younger than I am, but I am not old at all,” said Merritt.

Merritt, who served a 21-month suspension for a doping violation and a hamstring injury which hampered the defence of his Olympic title, has put these disappointments behind him and looking forward to the rivalry ahead.

“Every year I’m motivated because I love what I do, I train to win and I work hard,” he said.Kirani James - World Talk

“Last year was a disappointing year for me. I wanted to win another Olympic gold but it didn’t turn out that way. But I’m still in it, I’m fighting, I’m getting healthy every day, I’m taking care of my body because I know if you’re not healthy you can’t do anything. I have faith and I believe that I can go out and win, and that’s what I’m training to do.”

The victory on Saturday provides Merritt with tough talking points for the 2013 season and especially ahead of Moscow where both athletes are expected to renew that rivalry.

“Last time we raced before Shanghai I won which was here (Prefontaine) and I didn’t race after that. I raced him in Monaco but I got hurt, then we raced in Shanghai, he won,” said Merritt. “I love this crowd here, I wanted to put a race together – a smart race. We’re at a level where it’s about being smart.”

James agrees that it was a tactical lapse which cost him a first win over Merritt in the United States. Their last face-to-face competition was at the 2012 Prefontaine Classic, a race Merritt won owing in part to a false start by James who ran under protest.

“I allowed LaShawn to get ahead of me too much but it was a good overall race for me,” said James. “Hopefully in the future it can be exciting as this one,” he said.

“A lot of people have just as much talent as I do, not just him (Kirani),” said Merritt. “It was an amazing field of athletes out there from lane 1 to lane 8 so it was a matter of going out and running my own race, and understanding it and putting it together,” he added.

Even Ato Boldon, a former athlete, now television analyst, is anticipating a great match-up this year and sounding the early warning.

We are in for some great quarter-miling this year. These two do not give an inch,” said the four-time Olympic medallist.

“If you are a fan of the quarter-mile, this is going to be one of the best match ups on the track. The two best quarter milers in the world are one and one, so far in 2013, with the World Championships looming.”

The World Championships

The men’s 400m at the IAAF World Championships in Athletics is already a must see for many track and field fans and the world’s two top competitors are setting the stage.

However, Merritt will first have to qualify at the USA Track and Field Championships in Des Moines, Iowa, June 20-23.

“It means I’m working hard and I’m taking a race at a time and the ultimate goal is Moscow and getting there and win,” he said. “I go to Iowa and I will try to run three smart races to make the team and I look forward to Moscow and get there and go to work.”

James, an automatic qualifier as the defending world champion, is focus on his race execution.

“A meet like this is all about execution. If you get your execution wrong it could hurt you. World Champs is just about executing the race a lot better,” said James.

He will next race in Ostrava at the Golden Spike on June 27 and then the Diamond League in Paris on July 6. Merritt competes at the Golden Gala Diamond League in Rome on Thursday.

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