LaShawn Merritt’s worst fear was realized. Injury.
The reigning gold medalist in the 400 meter race, Merritt has been pulled from the London Olympics because of a bad left hamstring. It is a disheartening end to a four-year period that saw Merritt either injured or sidelined with a 21-month drug suspension.
This was his opportunity to get beyond all that. But Merritt pulled up halfway through his 400-meter heat Saturday and will not be around to defend his title.
“It’s very disappointing to be dealing with an issue and not be able to finish the race,” Merritt said. “I’ll regroup.”
Regrouping has been a constant for Merritt since winning in Beijing.
He failed three successive drug tests between October 2009 and January 2010 for a banned substance found in a male-enhancement product. The substance has been used as a masking agent, but Merritt convinced the those judging the case that he really did buy it at a convenience store for its intended purpose.
His ban was reduced in time for him to compete at the world championships last year, then he won another case challenging an International Olympic Committee rule that would have kept him out of the London Games.
At worlds last year, however, he finished second behind Kirani James of Grenada because he hadn’t been back long enough to get into strong competition shape.
Now this. His first loss in 2012.
It was a result of an injury he suffered last month during a tuneup race in Monaco. He has spent the time between then and now in rehabilitation, but earlier this week, coach Loren Seagrave conceded he wasn’t sure how Merritt would do once the Olympics arrived.
At the 150-meter mark, Merritt started slowing down and by the time he reached the far turn, he was done, hands on his hips, for a slow walk out of the stadium.
“I thought I could get through these rounds, not at 100 percent,” Merritt said. “I got out and got around the curve and started to feel it. I moved a little more and still felt it. I think I need more rest.”
With Merritt’s exit, the 400 meters turns into a free-for-all, with James now the favorite and a bunch of interesting possibilities beyond that. Jonathan Borlee of Belgium set a national record in qualifying at 44.43 seconds. His brother, Kevin, also had a top-six time.
“Yeah, it may be a little bit more fun to watch,” said Erison Hurtault of Dominica. “Now we’re going to see, I guess it’s someone else’s turn now.”