Olympic 400m champion LaShawn Merritt gave himself a trip to Berlin for his birthday, booking his ticket to the World Championships with a world best-equaling triumph at the US Athletics Championships.
Merritt, who turned 23 on Saturday, defied tricky winds that bedeviled competitors at historic Hayward Field to win in 44.50 seconds, matching the season’s best time he set at Baie Mahault on May 1.
“I’m getting old, getting old,” laughed Merritt, who looked anything-but as he lined up a World Championship clash with defending title holder Jeremy Wariner.
With the luxury of a bye to Berlin, Wariner opted to race the 200m here this week. In his absence, Gil Roberts won the battle for second in 44.93, ahead of 400m hurdles world champion Kerron Clement (45.14), while Olympic bronze medallist David Neville finished fifth.
“I played it smart. I didn’t want to race hard the whole way,” Merritt said. “Because I knew the wind, I ran in it these past two days. I got through it. I got on the curve, worked it and finished up strong.”
The conditions didn’t stop Lashinda Demus from improving on her season-leading time in the 400m hurdles as she won in 53.78 seconds. Sheena Tosta was second in 54.45 and Tiffany Williams third in 55.18.
Sanya Richards, aiming at a world title this year to expunge the memory of her disappointing bronze in Beijing, won the women’s 400m in 50.05.
“I don’t think it was one of my best races this year. The wind has been really difficult at Hayward Field this week. I wanted to be careful,” said Richards, who finished ahead of Debbie Dunn and Jessica Beard. “Today was kind of a mental battle.”
Reigning world champion Brad Walker, also aiming to make up for Olympic disappointment this season, won the pole vault in his first competition the year with a height of 5.75m. Jeremy Scott was second and Derek Miles third, both clearing the same height.
David Payne won the 110m hurdles, barely edging two-time Olympic silver medalist Terrence Trammell with Aries Merritt third.
Dwight Phillips sparked cheers with his winning long jump of 8.57m, achieved on his second attempt.
Phillips, the 2003 and 2005 world champion and the 2004 Olympic champion, struggled with injuries last year. He won the Prefontaine Classic earlier this month with a jump of 8.74m — which equaled the longest jump in the world since Mike Powell set the world record of 8.95m in 1991.