You'd think that a 400 metre time faster than 45 seconds would be enough to ensure safe passage into Olympic and World Championship finals. That's generally true but it's no guarantee. In fact, sub-45 times have missed finals from as far back as 1987 with changes in the 400 metre qualification format making things even tighter in 2001.
In that year, the IAAF eliminated the heat-quarterfinal-semifinal-final format. In its stead was the heat-semifinal-final format seen at Boys and Girls Championships. That change made three-race semifinals the norm. With the top two in each semi-final guaranteed better lanes in the final, that round was made even more urgent.
Since the change, some fine athletes have suffered the ignominy of breaking 45 seconds in Olympic or World Championship 400 semis and having to watch the final from the stands. They are:-
•Gary Kikaya 44.99 and Hamdan Al-Bishi 44.99 in the 2003 Worlds
•John Steffensen 44.95 in the 2007 Worlds
•Kevin Borlee 44.88, Nery Brenes 44.94, Kikaya 44.94 in the 2008 Olympics
• And Ramon Miller 44.93 in the 2009 Worlds
There were several cases of high speed semi-final desolation before the change. Jens Carlowitz of East Germany did 44.97 but missed the 1987 World final. Qatar's Ibrahim Ismail lost his way to the 1993 World final despite a 44.85. Susumo Takano of Japan and East Germany's 1987 World Champion Thomas Schonlebe missed the 1988 Olympic final despite matching times of 44.90 in separate semi-finals. A year after he was a close second in the 1991 Worlds, Roger Black produced a mighty 44.72 in the 1992 Olympic semi. Hurrying away from the Briton were champion-to-be Quincy Watts, 43.71, Kenya's Samson Kitur, 44.18, Ian Morris of Trinidad and Tobago, 44.21, and Black's compatriot David Grindley, 44.47.
Black can't even claim to be the fastest non-qualifier ever. American youngster Jerome Davis and Polish relay hero Tomasz Czubak got damaged in a 1999 World Championship semi won by US superman Michael Johnson in 43.95 seconds. Davis and Czubak zoomed times of 44.51 and 44.62 respectively in vain.
It's a good thing Jamaica is now raising a generation of very fast 400 men. Javon Francis, Akeem Bloomfield, age-15 world record holder Christopher Taylor, Martin Manley and Nathon Allen all have the goods to qualify for future 400 finals with no worry. They'll need to be on their high speed Ps and Qs because merely breaking 45 seconds may not be enough.