Sanya Richards-Ross and Jeremy Wariner hate to lose. They haven’t done much of that in their careers running the 400-meter event.
But the collegians in the Michael Johnson Classic got a head start on the Olympic champions, who were making their 400 season debuts Saturday.
“The [collegians have] run six or eight races, and that makes quite a difference,” said Clyde Hart, the coach for Richards-Ross and Wariner. “That’s certainly not to take anything away from them, but it wasn’t like we started off at some rinky-dink race.”
The 400 remains the main draw at the meet named after the best ever in the event, world-record-holder Johnson.
Texas sophomore Courtney Okolo was running her first outdoor 400 of the season but has warmed up for her opener with the indoor season and then outdoors with some 4x400 relays. Okolo, a Carrollton Newman Smith product, opened with the world’s best time this year in 50.99.
Richards-Ross lost the lead on the home stretch, with Okolo and Texas’ Kendall Baisden beating her to the line. Richards-Ross, a former UT runner, finished in 51.22.
“I felt like the first half was perfect, and I usually struggle with the first half, so that’s the good news,” Richards-Ross said. “I’m not a big fan of losing, but Courtney Okolo is a phenomenal quarter-miler. So I’ll take losing to her … this time.”
Richards-Ross, 30, has races the next four weeks beginning with Drake next weekend. The season, a dress rehearsal for next year’s Olympics, culminates with the World Championships.
Richards-Ross, who has four Olympic gold medals and a bronze, already has declared that the 2016 Rio Games are likely her last.
“She’s way ahead of schedule,” Hart said. “Her workouts are phenomenal. Her workouts are better than when probably they were in 2005 and 2006. Based on that, she’s going to be fine.”
Wariner, 31, hopes he has one Olympics left in him. After two injury-plagued seasons, the Arlington Lamar and Baylor product arrived at Hart Track & Field Stadium healthy and finished in 45.98.
He was fifth in his heat and sixth overall, but Wariner’s time was the fastest he’s run since 2012.
“It wasn’t the time I wanted, but it’s a start,” Wariner said. “It’s my first 400 in, geez, almost a year now. Last year, I think I ran all 46s. It’s one of my fastest times in a couple of years, so that’s all I wanted. I wanted to come out here and execute and just run a good race. I just want to improve every week and get in good position for USAs.”
No matter when it finally happens, Wariner will retire a legend in the event.
“Jeremy’s career has been fantastic,” Johnson said. “He had a great run, and unfortunately, he’s struggled the last few years with injuries. That’s part of the sport. … I hope that he can finish it out the way that he wants to and on his terms. We’re going to continue to support him as long as he can get out there and run.
“It’s a tough decision to make when it’s time to move to the next phase of your life, and it’s coming to the end. But only he can decide when that time comes. You can’t take anything away from what he’s been able to do over his career. He’ll go down as the second-best 400-meter runner ever. I’m just proud to have been associated with him.”
Texas A&M senior Deon Lendore, the defending NCAA champion in the 400, won the event in 45.14. That ranks as the third-fastest collegiate time of the year. Aldrich Bailey Jr., running unattached, ran a 45.72.
Bailey, who set the U.S. high school record while at Mansfield Timberview, spent his first two seasons at A&M before transferring to Texas. NCAA rules forced him to sit out this season, so he can run only meets that allow him to enter unattached.
He admits his career since high school remains a struggle.
“I’ve been stuck at 45 since I was 18, and I’m 21,” Bailey said. “I don’t know. Go back to the drawing board.”
Five events remained, including three running finals, when weather forced the cancellation of the rest of the Johnson Classic. The crowd of 2,655 rushed out as strong winds ushered in a nasty thunderstorm.
Texas A&M’s Brea Garrett, an Arlington Martin product, won the hammer with a throw of 190 feet, 11 inches. She finished second in the shot with a 51-61/2 put.
TCU had two victories: The men’s 4x100 relay team of Raymond Bozmans, Sam Watts Jr., Ronnie Baker and Kolby Listenbee won in 39.53, and Cameron Echols-Luper won the long jump with a 24-5 leap.
Charean Williams, 817-390-7760