Sports

Sprinter LaShawn Merritt hopes to repeat 2008 gold medal

DALLAS -- LaShawn Merritt reeled off the list of contenders for the Olympic gold medal in the 400. He mentioned Belgium's Jonathan Borlee and Kevin Borlee, Jamaica's Jermaine Gonzales, the Bahamas' Chris Brown, Grenada's Kirani James.

And?

"Of course, you also have Jeremy [Wariner]," Merritt said Monday at the Team USA Media Summit. "You can never count Jeremy out. I've seen him run 43.4, 43.5, 43.7. So anytime he steps on the track I feel like he's a threat. But at the end of the day, it comes down to running your own race, executing your own race."

Even though Merritt has been back from his suspension less than a year, even though James beat him at the last major championship, even though only one runner ever has repeated as Olympic champion in the 400 meters, Merritt considers himself the favorite.

He became that when he upset Wariner at the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2008 on his way to the gold medal in Beijing. He lost that when he tested positive for a banned substance after the 2009 season. He got the favorite's role back when he ran a 44.19 -- the world's fastest time this year -- at Doha, Qatar, four days ago.

"This is what I chose to do since I was 18," Merritt said. "I'll just get there [in London] and be focused on taking it round for round. If I do win -- when I do win -- I wouldn't even be thinking about what went on. It'll just be more of the hard work I put in paying off."

Merritt, now 25, was a rising star when he was suspended for using an over-the-counter male enhancement product. ExtenZe contains DHEA, short for dehydroepiandrosterone, a steroids precursor that is on the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list.

"I mean I'm responsible for everything I put in my body, even though it was an out-of-competition test," Merritt said. "... So it really had nothing to do with the sport. It was just tough for me to accept the mistake that I had made, but you live [and learn]. I had to man-up and accept the consequences."

During his ban, Merritt trained. He went back to school. He worked out for NFL scouts, running a 4.19 in the 40, he said, while considering whether to try his hand at receiver. He hung out with friends and family. He scraped by financially.

"When I was at home, looking at a bank account when I wasn't getting paid, it was, 'OK, what am I going to do if I won't be able to run in the Olympics?'" Merritt said.

An IOC rule prohibits athletes who have doping suspensions of more than six months from competing in the next Olympics in their sport. Merritt, though, won a Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing last fall, making him eligible for London.

That means he soon will renew his rivalry with Wariner. The two haven't gone head-to-head since 2009 when Merritt ran a 44.06 to Wariner's 44.60 at the World Championships.

Merritt is the same runner now but the 21-month ban has humbled and matured him.

After dethroning Wariner as the world's best, Merritt sometimes came across as arrogant. On Monday, Merritt used the word "respect" often when asked about his rivals, especially Wariner.

"We're co-workers, but we're fighting for the same gravy," Merritt said. "When it's time to line up and the gun goes off, obviously you want to win. But before the races, it's a 'good luck.' After the race, whatever happens, it's always a 'good job.'"

Charean Williams

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Twitter: @NFLCharean

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