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TrackLife International

Greatest 400m Men: Americans Dominate The Field

The 400m presents a unique set of challenges for its combatants. At times called the quarter mile, (although this term remains obsolete in the mind of purists) it is dissimilar to other track events; thus the challenges. First and foremost, it has its own specific training regimen. A great short sprinter does not a great 400m runner make; a fantastic 800m runner does not necessarily possess the requisite stamina, speed, strength and power necessary to set a world record, win a  medal at the highest level, or establish relative longevity in the event.

With sensational improvements recorded over the last 25 years or so, one gets the impression that the new crop of 400m sprinters are charged with the unenviable task of raising the bar a few more notches, which is no mean feat.

There is no doubt that the majority of the greatest quarter milers are either American or Caribbean. However, the Americans unquestionably have the upper hand in this contest. The question then becomes, who is the greatest 400m runner in history?

The short list of world’s best must include the following men who, some singlehandedly, completely revolutionized the structure of the event. They include Americans Butch Reynolds, Lee Evans, Steve Lewis, Michael Johnson, Jeremy Wariner, LaShawn Merritt; Jamaican Herb McKenley and Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena.

Never Won Olympic/World Title

Former world record holder Butch Reynolds, with his best time of 43.29secs, was a somewhat dominant force between 1987 and 1995. Reynolds won a slew of ‘lesser’ medals at major championships but never won an individual Olympic or World title, although he won the World Indoor Championships in 1993. Reynolds is by record of achievement noted, the eighth best 400m runner of all time.

The 1968 Olympic champion and then world record holder Lee Evans is seventh best. The seemingly unreachable time of 43.86secs set in Mexico City at the Games highlighted the pinnacle of Evans’ career. He earlier won the 1967 Pan American title. He was the first man to run the 400m in under 44.00secs.

Although Steve Lewis had a relatively short career, he achieved some amount of distinction including that of being the 1988 Olympic champion, upsetting then world record holder and compatriot, Butch Reynolds, running a memorable 43.87secs. He followed that up with a silver medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. He is sixth on the all-time list.

The late Jamaican track official herb McKenley is fifth best. McKenley was a superstar in every sense of the word. He is the only athlete to have made the final of all three sprints (he accomplished this rare feat at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics). A former multiple world record setter, he won back-to-back silver medals at the 1948 and 1952 Games, when he was upset by a less fancied teammate each time.

Most Fearsome in His Heyday

Cuba’s Alberto Juantorena is fourth on the list. Juantorena won the 1976 Olympic title, the 1977 World Cup, and a silver medal at the 1975 Pan American Games. During his heyday, Juantorena was one of the most fearsome athletes on the circuit and suffered only a rare loss or two, during the height of his illustrious career.

Twenty-five-year-old LaShawn Merritt is third best. He holds a personal best (PB) of 43.75secs, which won the gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He dominated the event at the 2009 World Championships and won the gold medal. He also won silver medals at the Worlds in 2007 and 2011, after suffering a setback because of a minor infraction, and being subsequently penalized by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), which governs the sport.

Jeremy Wariner is second best. Wariner has been truly dominant in his own right although he suffered two important setbacks in his career at the hands of compatriot LaShawn Merritt. He is the third fastest quarter miler ever with a PB of 43.45secs. He is the 2004 Olympic champion and 2008 silver medalist. In addition, he won back-to-back gold medals at the 2005 and 2007 Worlds, and a silver medal in 2009, in Berlin.

Critics and supporters alike often commented on the uncharacteristic upright running style of the legendary Michael Johnson, not only the greatest 400m runner in history, but one of the greatest athletes who ever lived. The 1996 Olympic champion and world record holder at 43.18secs, Johnson retained his title in Melbourne in 2000, but his resume also includes four World titles from 1993 to 1999. He has recorded 14 of the top 25 times in the 400m.

Johnson literally flew through the competition on the track, and he again ends up on top here as the greatest ever 400m runner.

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