By Noel ‘Bravo’ Francis, Special to TrackAlerts.Com

Women’s 400m

The women’s individual 400m event in recent times has been very exciting and unpredictable. At present a number of athletes are at different stages of their build-up, yet fans are grateful for this quality field assembled at the Prefontaine Classic. The event can be dubbed a Jamaica versus U.S.A showdown with seven of the eight athletes confirmed from both countries. Olympic champion and world leader, Sanya Richards-Ross leads the pack. Richards-Ross, the only woman to run under 50 seconds this season will be hoping to redress her sixth place finish in Eugene last year. She will also be aiming to shrug off her sluggish performance in Qatar last week and claim her 50th sub-50 seconds clocking.

Jamaica’s Novelene Williams-Mills, was the winner in Eugene last year on her way to the Diamond Race Trophy. However, so far this season has been a struggle for the veteran athlete who at times looked pedestrian. It is not often we see Williams-Mills so far off the leading quarter-milers and while it is still early days, her fans are hoping for a much improved showing in Eugene. Williams-Mills is a rhythm runner and it is only a matter of time before she gets her groove back.

Her compatriot Stephenie Ann McPherson, has been steady so far, however, she too will need to find another gear in this race. McPherson needs to revisit that fearlessness and aggressive running style that characterized her performances in 2013. So far this season, McPherson’s best effort is 50.93 seconds in Doha. Another Jamaican, Christine Day, an important member of her country’s 4x400m relay squad who placed 6th in the Doha Diamond League, will be hoping to dip below 51 seconds on Saturday.

The athlete long considered America’s x-factor on various relay legs, Allyson Felix, will be contesting the 400m in Eugene. Felix, fresh from a world leading 21.98 seconds in the 200m in Doha is gradually hitting top form. This multi-talented athlete’s presence should make this event a super race. The field also includes American relay specialists Natasha Hastings and Phyllis Francis. Hastings won the 2013 US National championships and placed 5th in this event at Eugene last year. Francis, who turned professional this year, ran the lead off leg on the US 4x400m relay at the IAAF World Relays in Bahamas. She is the current US National 400m indoor record holder (50.46). Francis will be very familiar with the Hayfield track having attended the University of Oregon.

Lastly, some observers believe that unless Italy’s Libania Grenot improves leaps and bounds, she might have to settle again for 8th place like last year. Can the Jamaicans topple the Americans in their own backyard?

Men’s 400m

Kirani James of Grenada is the Caribbean’s best male quarter-miler and indeed the world at present. He is unbeaten so far this season. The lanky athlete has registered the fastest 400m time (44.22) this year and will be going for his fourth consecutive victory. James recently stated that the head-to-head rivalries featuring the world’s top athletes are the best way forward for track & field. He will clash for the third time in over a month with main rival LaShawn Merritt of the United States. Last year James and Merritt were involved in one of the most exciting races at the Prefontaine Classic meet where a photo finish was used to decide the winner. Both men recorded identical times (43.97).

This season Merritt has not looked as sharp, running way below his lofty standards. Based on current form, fans are unlikely to see a repeat of last year’s classic lean for the tape as instead of Merritt breathing down James’ neck; he might realize on Saturday that the image of James in front of him is getting smaller and smaller metre by metre in the home straight. Merritt must be thankful that as defending Diamond Race and world champion he has an automatic bye to the World Championships, hence he would have been sweating at the US trials in June. Nevertheless, for this event, it would be good to see Merritt lowering his season best of 44.80 seconds done in Kingston, Jamaica.

Bahamian Chris ‘Fireman’ Brown is an athlete defying biology and history. He is the oldest man to run sub-45 seconds which he did at 35 years old. At the Drake Relays, Brown ran 44.76 seconds to claim third behind a rampaging James who broke the meet record. At the World Relays, Brown ran a 44.17 seconds split on anchor to take home silver for his country. Brown is expected to register another sub-45 seconds time and show the youngsters how it is done.

The continent of Asia will be well represented in this event. Yousef Ahmed Masrahi dubbed by this writer as ‘the Arabian Rolls-Royce’ is one of the most impressive quarter-milers in the world at present. Masrahi has recorded two of the world leading times this season. He ran 44.70 at the Drake Relays and followed up with a 44.59 seconds season best in Kingston, Jamaica. He will be a serious contender not only in Eugene but in Beijing as well.

Abdalleleh Haroun is one of two outstanding juniors making waves in the world this year, the other being Jamaica’s Akeem Bloomfield. Haroun produced identical runs (44.68) in March and April of this year. The 18-year-old followed up on May 15, 2015, with his third sub-45 seconds clocking with 44.85 seconds to win the Asian men’s 400m at the Doha Diamond League. Track fans should make a note of his name. It should be a fantastic duel if Haroun can reproduce those times amongst the seniors. European champion Pavel Maslak of Czech Republic, African record holder Isaac Makwala and American Tony McQuay, the World championship silver medallist, are also included in this field.

This event has definitely gotten back its prestige and fans are in for a treat.

About the Author:
Noel ‘Bravo’ Francis is a very exciting and creative freelance sports writer specializing in the fields of athletics and cricket. His colourful down to earth yet professional personality makes him a favourite amongst athletes and fans. Readers are often exposed to his detailed knowledge and passion which usually increase their interest in the athletes, events and the sport overall. He has a first degree in Banking & Finance and works in the financial industry. Contact Noel at [email protected]


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