''We'll meet again,'' vows LaShawn Merritt.
"And next time it could be different.'"
Portsmouth's Merritt, the 2008 Olympic and 2009 World 400-meter champion out of Wilson High, had just lost a tough verdict to 18-year-old phenomenon Kirani James of Grenada, in the 400 final that featured the fourth day of action at the 13th World Championships of Track and Field, but he pledged to change things in some future return engagement.
The 25-year-old Merritt was the slowest of eight men out of the starting blocks at Daegu Stadium, but pushed hard down the back straightaway, battled into the lead and held it until the final five meters,
"I was just focusing on that finish line, I could see it, it was within reach," said Merritt.
But the younger James, already a two-time NCAA champion for the University of Alabama, had more in the tank. He pulled even with Merritt and then dipped into the finish line to win by the slimmest of margins, 44.60 seconds to 44,63. Only one World Championships 400 final had ever been closer.
It was the best of all birthday presents for James — who turns 19 on Sept. 1 — and not really a downer for Merritt.
"The main thing was that I was back on the track (after serving a 21-month suspension for inadvertent drug use), I was back on the podium, and back running for USA," said Merritt.
"Just being here is a blessing. I'm feeling great and I'm running well, but I know I can run even better."
"I didn't focus on LaShawn Merritt or anyone else," said James. "I just stayed relaxed and did my own race. Right now I am exceedingly happy. And I think many people in Grenada are, too.''
Expectations were that the winning time would be under 45 seconds — Merritt has a career best of 43.75, fifth quickest in track history — but it just wasn't to be,
The loss also ended Merritt's 17-meet winning streak that began at Lausanne, Switzerland on Sept. 2, 2008, but he shrugged that off, as well.
"Nobody's perfect, nobody wins them all. At this moment, James is the World champion and give him all credit. He's young and he's going to get even better. But I'm going to get better and faster, too."
Just one runner — USA's Michael Johnson in 1996 and 2000 — has won repeat Olympic golds in the 400. All going to plan, Merritt will get his crack at that slice of Olympic history in less than a year. He'll get another crack at Daegu gold — in the 4x400 relay — on Friday.
Belgium's twin stars, Kevin and Jonathan Borlee, both former stars at Florida State, placed 3-5 in 44.90 and 45.07. Another Grenada runner, Rondell Bartholomew, was sixth in 45.45.
It was a tough day for Virginia Tech alumna Queen Harrison, a former NCAA champion. She just couldn't close enough ground to reach Thursday's final of the women's 400-meter hurdles. Third in her semifinal race at 55.44, she wound up 12th over-all in an event that needed a 55.06 to reach the eight-runner final. USA teammate Lashinda Demus, though, led all qualifiers at 53.82.
Said Harrison: ''I can't be mad at myself. This is a new atmosphere for me. So, I think I did really, really well. One thing I learned about this experience is treating every race as a final and not underestimating anyone. The world championships brings out the best in everybody, just the way it should.''Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times