Ridley Ingram photo:
400M FINAL: Kirani James about to make his move on defending 400m champion LaShawn Merritt.
The collegiate track and field season begins in December with the indoor season and ends with the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June for Division I programs. During this long six-month period, athletes have to adjust from the indoor setting to outdoors while competing in Conference championships for their colleges.
The Championships are important as colleges offer scholarships to athletes with the desire to win conferences titles. Top athletes are called upon to compete in several events, including the relays, which can obviously take a toll on their bodies. Exhausted after the end of the NCAA season in mid-June, the athletes had two weeks to prepare for their national trials in late June to earn a spot on their national team to the World Championships, and had to stay sharp and focused for the next two months to perform at their best in Daegu. So, should we be surprised that there were only two collegians atop the podium in Daegu: Kirani James (Grenada–400m) and Christian Taylor (USA–triple jump)?
So much was expected of Demetrius Pinder (Bahamas) and Tabarie Henry (USVI) in the men’s 400m in Daegu. Both Pinder and Henry have 400m season best 44.78 and 44.83, respectively and both made their nation’s team to Daegu. Pinder won the 400m at the Bahamian Trials in a personal best 44.78, defeating a veteran group that included Chris “Fireman” Brown, but he did not make it to the 400m finals in Daegu. Henry made it to the finals but could muster-up only a 45.55 performance for 7th place. What happened to Pinder and Henry? Were they injured or were they victims of tired legs? It is virtually impossible to perform at such a high level for an extended period of time.
Then there is Grenada’s Rondell Bartholomew of South Plains College who opened his outdoor season with a world-leading 44.65 in the 400m at the Texas Tech Invitational in April but seemed to have struggled going forward. In Daegu, the 21-yr-old managed only 45.45 for sixth place.
Tony McQuay, the USA 400m champion (44.68) who defeated Jeremy Wariner at the US Trials in Eugene in June, did not make it out of the heats in Daegu. McQuay, the University of Florida sophomore, suffered an injury during the long 2011 season and was unable to performance at his best in Daegu.
Kirani James the Exception
In Kirani James's case, Harvey Glance and the coaching staff at the University of Alabama masterfully orchestrated the perfect plan for him with Daegu as the ultimate destination. James was used sparingly throughout the season and despite a disappointing fall in the 2011 NCAA indoor 400m Championships finals, the Grenadian stayed on track as he captured individual titles in the SEC Conference and the NCAA Outdoor Championships.
Immediately after the NCAA in June, James was pulled from competition. Already, he had had met the 400m “A” qualifying standard for Daegu and needed to work on fine-tuning his skills. In the meantime, he went pro. James was then unleashed three weeks before Daegu at the London Diamond League on August 6, where he won the 400m in a then world-leading 44.61. At month’s end, he went on to capture 400m gold in Daegu in a personal best 44.60, defeating the defending champion LaShawn Merritt (44.63) in the process.