Saturday August 22nd, 2009

BERLIN -- Allyson Felix and LaShawn Merritt ruled their events on Friday night at Berlin's Olympic Stadium, and there should be no doubting their supremacy in their respective races. Both U.S. runners came into this year's world championships in Berlin with something to prove. Felix entered as the two-time defending world champion at 200 meters, but she settled for silver behind Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown at last summer's Olympics in Beijing. Merritt entered as the Olympic 400-meter champion who was still getting second billing before the event here because his teammate, Jeremy Wariner, the Olympic silver medalist, had won the previous two world titles and the 2004 Olympics.

After a nearly one-hour delay because of a rainstorm, Felix easily outsprinted Campbell-Brown to the line, crossing in 22.02 seconds, a time that was certainly affected by the wait and the weather conditions. Campbell-Brown crossed in 22.35 followed by Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie of the Bahamas in 22.41. It was Felix's third straight world title in the event, and was, she confessed, a hint at redemption for the silver in Beijing. "Every time I race Veronica, she brings out the best in me," said Felix, who then turned to face Campbell-Brown. "I'd like to trade my three world championships for your gold. . . I was disappointed not to reach my goals last year. It's in the past now. This night was special. It begins the healing process."

Though Felix had run less frequently this season, she still entered the race with the fastest time in the world this year -- 21.88 in Stockholm on July 31. Ferguson-McKenzie and Campbell-Brown had each been putting up swift times all season. Before the race, a graphic on the stadium jumbotron showed a tale of the tape between Campbell-Brown and Ferguson. Felix pumped her fist after she crossed the line in an unusual show of emotion. This is, after all, a preacher's daughter who teaches Sunday school during the winter, is not the type to flaunt her accomplishments. The preacher was in the stands, too. Paul Felix can speak with authority about anything, especially his daughter. "Allyson is more competitive than people realize," he said after the race. "I don't know where she got it from. I'm competitive, too, but I don't have her talent, so I'm used to losing."

In fact, he said, his daughter's decision to plan a more moderate race schedule helped prepare her better for Berlin. "She did a few too many things before the Olympics," Mr. Felix said. "She had media opportunities, she was in a wedding and she flew back and forth to Europe a couple of times. She had a couple of bad races before Beijing. She learned from last year that you can't do everything."

For Merritt, the race validated his Olympic triumph last summer against Wariner. Though Wariner holds a 3-2 edge in major titles, Merritt has won the last two and clearly looked like the better runner on Friday. The pair came off the last turn almost even, but Merritt simply pulled away over the final 100 meters, besting Wariner by several steps and finishing in 44.06 seconds. Even with the gap to Merritt, Wariner was comfortably in second in 44.60 followed by Renny Quow of Trinidad & Tobago in 45.02. "I kept my body position like I needed to for the whole race," Merritt said. "Everybody's going to get to 300 meters. From 300 on, I went to work again. At 300, I hit it hard and I finished strong . . . Everytime Jeremy and me lock up, we're going to have a great race. When the gun goes off, we're gonna bring it."

After the race, Wariner showed his disappointment by walking past officials who motioned for him not to go past the finish line in the opposite direction. He eventually made his way over to Merritt to congratulate him and briefly ran part of a victory lap with his teammate as both man wrapped themselves in U.S. flags. As the defending world champ, Wariner was guaranteed a berth in the race at the worlds in addition to the three runners who qualified at the U.S. Nationals in Eugene in June. Because of that, he experimented more with 200-meter races during the season and looked like a man who was overtaxed in the final hundred. "I didn't have as much left as I'm used to," said Wariner, who ran 43.45 in winning gold two years ago at the world championships in Osaka. "It's not like it was when I could run 43s all the time. I have to get myself back to that."

The pair must now go from being rivals to being teammates, as the U.S. men try to get the baton around for the 4x400-meter relays over the weekend. That is often a dicey proposition, since death and taxes seem no more certain than at least one foul-up with a U.S. relay team at a world championship or Olympics. On Friday, the men's 4x100 relay squad was disqualified when Shawn Crawford and anchorman Darvis Patton couldn't make an exchange within the legal passing zone. Ironically, Crawford had trouble taking the baton moments earlier from Mike Rodgers and barely righted himself, saving an illegal pass. The U.S. team protested the decision, but had its protest rejected, denying fans one more chance to see Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt racing towards another finish line in the finals. The U.S. four-by-one quartet dropped the baton at the Beijing Olympics. "We need to make clean, safe passes and we need to be on the same page," said Wariner of the longer relay. "We need to think like a team. We don't want any accidents."

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