Eight years after his initial Olympic coronation, LaShawn Merritt was back atop the podium on Saturday night, closing the 2016 Olympic Games with gold draped around his neck once more.
The Games didn’t go exactly as planned for the now four-time Olympic medalist, but he ended them in style, anchoring the U.S. to gold in Men’s 4 x 400 meter race with a world-leading total time of 2:57.30 completed with a 43.9-second split by LaShawn. The win marked his third career Olympic gold to go along with the bronze from this year’s 400m.
Getting the team gold this time around, eight years after winning double gold in the 400 and 4 x 400 meant the world to LaShawn.
“For me, it means what Olympics are all about. Olympics are about representing your country,” he said. “When I can do that with a group of guys on the track to end the Olympic Games, it makes it a lot more special to get this gold medal.”
The win also restored order in the 4 x 400, an event long dominated by the American males, but which, with LaShawn out injured, they finished third at the 2012 Olympic Games. With that stunning setback in mind, the U.S. men put all of their effort to reclaiming the top spot. That meant that despite running six races in Rio prior to the 4×4 final, LM was still intent on bring the anchor the American needed to bring the gold back home.
“We wanted this gold. We didn’t get it in the last Olympics. I just told everybody, go out and do your job,” he said. “I”ve been running a lot (in Rio) but I’m going to give that anchor leg all I’ve got. Everybody did their job, and we’re bringing the gold back to the U.S.”
However the Americans weren’t unchallenged in the event. In fact, they didn’t even win their semifinal heat, coming a close second to Jamaica. That set the stage for what would be a competitive final with LaShawn following Arman Hall, Tony McQuay and Gil Roberts.
Hall got Team USA off to a strong start, and passed to McQuay who got out brilliantly and took the lead for the U.S. in the second leg. After setting an incredible pace over the first half of his leg, McQuay started to fade a bit as he approached Roberts, but still posted an outstanding split of 43.6 that allowed the Americans to just hold off a hard-charging team from Botswana at the halfway point. Roberts was also strong in his leg, despite nearly stumbling in the final turn, but was able to get LaShawn the baton with the lead and the Olympic veteran did the rest.
Running for the seventh time over an eight-day span in Rio, LaShawn still looked relatively fresh, setting a solid pace to pull away from Botswana and eventually build a commanding lead going into the final turn. In the homestretch, it was all gold for LaShawn as he followed a clear path to his third career Olympic gold medal and second with the 4 x 400 team. Afterward, he deflected credit, emphasizing the team nature of the event.
“This was about Team USA and a great group of guys out there that I ran with,” he said. “They made my job easy.”
The win completed an up and down 2016 Olympic Games for LaShawn, who started it with a close bronze medal finish in the Men’s 400 meters. He followed that up with his first Olympic attempt in the 200 meters. He was strong through to the final, winning both his preliminary and semifinal heats, but the volume of races finally caught up to him in the final, where he came home in sixth position.
But he had enough left in the tank on Saturday to anchor the 4 x 400 team to gold and finish the 2016 Games, his third career Olympics, on a high note.
“Even in college I didn’t run this much. But it was great,” he said. “I went for it every time I stepped on the track.”