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Merritt, Richards win 400 crowns

July 04, 2008, 7:09 p.m. (ET)

EUGENE, Ore. -One 400-meter runner came of age and another returned to form Thursday night at the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field.

LaShawn Merritt, the 2007 World Outdoor silver medalist and two-time U.S. runner-up, on Thursday reached the full potential he had demonstrated since winning the 2004 World Junior title in the men's 400 meters. He entered these Olympic Trials in the same category as every other quarter-miler: as a challenger to defending Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champion Jeremy Wariner.

Running with newfound confidence and maturity this season, especially after defeating Wariner on June 1 in Berlin, Merritt ran a commanding race to win his first national outdoor title and peg him as at least a co-gold medal favorite in Beijing.

With Wariner in lane 4 and Merritt in Lane 5, the two men were roughly even through 200 meters. A few steps later, Merritt had begun to take a lead and clearly had an advantage coming off the turn. Down the final stretch, Merritt led Wariner by a stride as the Olympic champion was digging to make up ground. Competing just a few days after turning 22 on June 27, Merritt held his ground and won handily in 44.00, with Wariner second in 44.20. USA indoor champion David Neville was a surprising third in 44.61.

The top three finishers in each event at these Olympic Trials, who have met Olympic performance standards, will earn the ultimate prize of a spot on the Team USA roster for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.

Richards returns in 400

The women's 400 meters was expected to provide world #1 ranked Sanya Richards the chance to return to the top of the U.S. heap after finishing a disappointing fourth in 2007. She delivered. At the gun, Richards bolted around the first turn, scorching the first 100 meters before easing significantly in the second 200. With a half lap to go, Mary Wineberg had pulled even with Richards, running on Richards' inside, giving Wineberg the lead.

Richards turned it on for the final 200 meters and sprinted away to win by nearly 1 full second, running 49.89, with Wineberg second in 50.85. Perhaps the most astounding story of the race was defending national champion Dee Dee Trotter finishing third in 50.88. The 2004 Olympic relay gold medalist is running with a broken bone chip in her left leg, the result of an errant car door closing on her two months ago. Just a few weeks ago, Trotter was running 53 seconds in the 400. On Thursday, she became a two-time Olympian.