When LaShawn Merritt stepped into the spotlight at the World Junior Championship in 2004, he made a very bold statement. The statement seemed to echo in bold caps, “I am a force to be reckoned with.” He walked away with nothing but gold. He also emphasized that statement with his 4x100m relay team and his 4x400m relay team to set Jr world records respectively. Since his entrance into “the big leagues” LaShawn has not disappointed by re-establishing that statement over and over. Then he was like a new kid on the block who was not one to back away from any challenge, even if it meant competing against other athletes who have been in the game longer than he had.
He had his first taste of being an international phenom in the track and field world when he won a silver medal in the 400m and gold in the 4x400m at the Osaka World Championship in 2007. In the 400m he ran alongside Olympians one of whom he did beat and on the world’s largest stage at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 he defeated the reigning 400m king then, Jeremy Wariner. LaShawn and his teammates recorded the second fastest time ever in the 4x400m relay and also broke the Olympic meet record. His resume speaks for itself as he keeps living up to that bold statement.
He has made his mark and still continues to. He has left his footprints on numerous tracks across the globe but recently LaShawn accomplished something off the track that was unprecedented and historical. This may inspire other athletes to keep on fighting for what they believe in, regardless of how long it takes and to never give up on their dreams, no matter what.
At Double G Sports we caught up with LaShawn and had a quick chat with him about his upcoming season.
Janet Thompson Hilliman: Thank you so much for taking time out from your busy schedule to have a little chat with me so let’s just jump right in. I am sure that your fans and supporters are really happy for you. You took on some pretty big guys, the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and had your suspension lifted. Did you ever think you would come out on top and what did that moment feel like when you knew you could participate in the 2012 Olympics?
LaShawn Merritt: It was a pretty trying time for me but I had the support of my family and a great group of people who believed in me. It was a great feeling… like a weigh lifted off my shoulders. I can go back to doing what I love to do and that’s to run. In knowing that I was cleared and I was able to compete at the upcoming Olympics, I was just thankful to God, grateful that I have the opportunity to defend my title. I was just happy I came out victorious and can move forward.
JTH: Were you training at all for an outdoor season during the time you were waiting on the news?
LM: Well, I tried to focus on school and kinda stayed busy, just staying focus in general. I prayed, had my family and my team of people who were there with me every step of the way. I was training although I wasn’t sure when I was gonna get back on the track again. But now I am preparing to do some indoor meets. The Outdoor season starts in February so I’m getting ready.
JTH: Do you see this as vindication especially for the haters and doubters who talked about you and do you think you have to work harder to prove yourself?
LM: I wouldn’t really have anything to say to those people. The people who matter have been there for me. I don’t really think I have anything to prove, just to myself. I am definitely gonna work a lot harder to stay on top and do what I love to do and that’s compete.
JTH: So with the 2012 Olympics on the horizon and with your resume as it stands at the 2008 Beijing Games 400m gold and 4x400m gold, what can America and the world expect from LaShawn Merritt?
LM: I love the sport and will continue to give my best… to show the world just that. There are a lot of people who don’t know that I run throughout the year. Next year being an Olympic year is a major year for me and I’m looking forward to competing and giving it my all.
JTH: Are you one of those athletes who go into a zone, or a quiet place before you compete?
LM: Usually I get to the track at least two hours before a race. I warm up and try not to distract myself. Some people use headphones I just try to stay focus, go over the race in my head, pray then get ready to get on the line.
JTH: I know that you are living your dream right now but did you always want to become a track star?
LM: (He chuckles a little) I started out playing baseball, football and basketball. I went to a track meet with my coach at Norfolk State and he actually encouraged me. I saw a lot of older guys running…I didn’t even know about AAU track. My junior year in high school I started running and I fell in love with it.
JTH: Any advice for a young athlete just starting out who may see you as a role model?
LM: Work hard at what you do, give it everything you have and even if you lose a race don’t give up, just train harder and get back out there and give it 110%, just go do it!
JTH: Sounds like good advice! But before we go I gotta ask this question, the word is out that the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt of Jamaica is training for the 400m so he can run a leg on the 4×400 relay team. Does this intimidate you at all?
LM: (He laughs) Definitely not an intimidation factor. I heard that he was training for the 400m. On the track America is the most dominant country in this event. I believe that we have four quarter milers that we can put together a team and compete with anybody. But no, I’m definitely not intimidated.
JTH: Guess what? I believe the whole world will be waiting for that showdown. I think it will be the event to watch at the Olympics. But if you put on that same performance as you did in Daegu at the World Championship this past summer when you were in third place coming off the final turn and winning it, we will all be holding our breaths to see that race. It’s going to be something to see!
LM: (chuckling) I guess it will be!
JTH: I am so happy for you, that you persevered and that you are back in your position doing what you love to do. So any final words before I let you go?
LM: I am just happy that I am able to defend my title at the Olympics. I’m just a guy who is coming back right now, who’s hungry, working hard to go out and have a great season, proving to myself that this is where I belong.
JTH: Well, you have actually done that already; it’s just a matter of keeping it going. I really appreciate you talking to me and I wish you the absolute best of luck for the rest of the season.
(He repeats with a smile in his voice, “yes, keeping it going! And thank you”)