Jeremy Wariner Gets Matt Pulle's Heart Racing Just a Little
Arlington's Jeremy Wariner, at right, winning the 400 in Athens in 2004 -- the dude doesn't know to lose.
Arlington’s own Jeremy Wariner added another trophy to his mantle, dominating the 400-meter dash today at the World Track Championships in Osaka, Japan. Wariner ran a 43.45, more than .51 seconds ahead of the runner-up, American LaShawn Merritt. A half a second may not sound like a lot -- word has it that’s how long it takes Steve Blow to write his Saturday column -- but in the world of sprints, that’s an eternity. It would be like winning a marathon by a half a mile.
I can’t claim to be an expert on local sports, but I’d love to hear Richie Whitt come up with an athlete to come out of our area in the last 10 years who is more awesome than Wariner. In fact, you can make a winning argument that the Lamar High School graduate is more dominant than Tiger Woods, if only because Wariner never, ever, ever loses on the big stage.
At the 2004 Olympics, he took home two golds in the 400-meter dash and the 4 x 400 meter relay. The next year he won both races at the World Outdoor Championships. Today, the Baylor alum -- who has the worst nickname in sports, “Pookie” -- flies to Osaka and sets a personal record in his specialty event and will almost definitely come home with a second gold in the relay, unless one of the Americans drops the baton. (Sadly, that’s always a risk for our boys in blue, who have the hands of Terrell Owens when a medal’s on the line.)
What’s absolutely frightening about Wariner is that he’s not even in his prime yet. This is a guy who graduated from high school in 2002 and only took up track on a whim as a diversion from football. At 23 years old, Wariner will almost definitely improve over the next four or five years and is a sure bet to eclipse the 400-meter world record set by his mentor and Skyline grad Michael Johnson. When Wariner’s career is over, he’ll be in the same class as Johnson and Carl Lewis. That’s how good he is.
I ran track and field in college, concentrating primarily on middle distance events like the mile and 5,000-meter run. Every now and then I ran the 400. Just one lap around the track, the race seems rather easy. Actually, it’s pure torture. It’s not hard at all to sprint as fast as you can for about 200 meters or so, but once you run a little farther and head into the final straightaway, lactic acid floods every part of your now flailing body, and your muscles become tighter than Tom Leppert at an M Streets barbecue. You’re in so much oxygen debt, you have to finance it.
As you near the finish line, your legs start to lock up, and if you don’t time it just right, your stride will give out, you’ll stagger like Keith Richards, and all you’ll care about is moving your deadly stiff legs incrementally forward so you’ll eventually be done. Then, even when you’re finished, your heart is racing out of control, you can’t pop your ears or even say your name, and if you ate a little too much for lunch, you may be lumbering around the infield of the track desperately searching for a trash can.
This is the event Jeremy Wariner owns. He doesn’t wear khakis and a visor and leisurely hit balls off a tee. He dominates one of the most difficult feats in all of sports, so much so that nobody in the world can even give him a decent race. When Wariner takes the line, it literally is a race for second. Tiger, as great as he is, still loses more often than he wins. Not to sound like a football coach here, but Wariner doesn’t know how to lose. --Matt Pulle
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Observer's biggest stories.