RIO DE JANEIRO -- LaShawn Merritt won a bronze medal in the men’s 400-meter at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and set a season-best time in the process.
“It was a great race and I knew it was going to be a fast one,” Merritt said. “I didn’t think it was going to be 43 seconds fast, but we got our medals.”
Merritt ran 43.85 seconds and was in contention throughout the race. He had a strong start but couldn’t maintain the record-setting pace of South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk.
The South African’s time of 43.03 seconds broke the world record of 43.18 that was set by Michael Johnson in 1999.
“He has been running well and it just came down to who wanted it today,” Merritt said of van Niekerk. “He was the one today.”
Merritt reached the medal podium for the first time since winning gold at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. He qualified for the 2012 Olympics, but pulled his hamstring halfway through his 400-meter heat in London.
The injury stemmed from a previous hamstring strain suffered two weeks prior at the 2012 Diamond League event in Monaco.
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His absence in the London final left the U.S. without a medal in the 400-meter event for the first time since 1980, the year the U.S. boycotted the Games in Moscow.
For Merritt, not qualifying for the final in London left him determined to regain a position on the podium in Rio.
“Every year is ‘work time’ from world championships to Olympic Games,” Merritt said. “I don’t take this in stride every four years. I take it race to race.”
With his bronze-medal performance on Sunday night, Merritt became the latest U.S. Olympian to reach the medal stand twice in the 400-meter. He is the first since Johnson won back-to-back gold medals at the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
“I’ll take it,” Merritt said. “I am going home with my first medal and I have two more to get.”
The medal is the latest in a storied career of international success for the 30-year-old who has 11 world and now three Olympic medals to his credit. That includes the silver medal from the 2015 worlds.
“I was on the podium last year and this is the Olympic Games with the same people,” he said. “It is a bigger stage with the same people but it is nothing foreign.”
Merritt will have a quick turnaround. He has a chance to compete for more medals in the men’s 200-meter and 4x400-meter events.
“I got to get my day rest and get back to the first round of the 200,” he said.
Merritt also said that the bronze medal won’t change his motivation. He plans to be ready when he returns to the track again.
“I’m always motivated as I was motivated in the semifinals and the finals,” Merritt said. “I will be just as motivated in the first round of the 200. The motivation never drops and I train every day to come out and handle these championships. The motivation level is still on the highest.”
Jaylon Thompson is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.