PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Although LaShawn Merritt has become an international track superstar, when it comes to American sports fans, the Olympics are where it’s at.
“There are a lot of people in the U.S., maybe 90 percent of the population, still think I just run every four years,” Merritt told me in an exclusive interview in his hometown of Portsmouth today. “And I get the question all the time.”
Well, it’s that time again. LaShawn Merritt, one of the most decorated sports figures in Hampton Roads history, is headed to his third consecutive Olympic games — and this time he is looking to make history.
It was 1996, four-time gold medal winner Michael Johnson, gold shoes and all, for the first time ran in both the 400 meter and 200 meter Olympic races, setting Olympic and world records.
Now 20 years later, for only the second time in history, LaShawn Merritt will look to match that feat.
“It is a privilege and honor to represent the U.S. in two events. The only person who has ever done it is Michael Johnson, and to follow in his footsteps, to me, it wasn’t a dream before, but now it’s a dream that’s become a reality to be able to do that.”
After winning gold in the 400 eight years ago, a hamstring injury kept him from a repeat in London.
“The biggest thing for me was to win two golds back to back. Because no one has ever been able to do that in the 400 except for Michael Johnson. That’s tough to do. But I knew that at some point after the hamstring healed that I would come back.”
Lashawn is scheduled to anchor the 4 x 400 relay team, an event U.S. runners have lost only four times since the 1912 games in Stockholm, including in London, because Merritt wasn’t able to run.
“But we’ve run well since the years after London. So I’m pretty confident with the 4×4 squad that we have and I will be anchoring that squad after a long 400 and then a 200. I’ll take the 200 a round at a time. The main focus is the 400, that is the event I really want to win. As for the 200, right now I have the fastest time in the world, I enjoy the event, over these next couple of weeks I’ll kind of learn how to run the event a little better. And as for the 4×400 relay, everybody loves that event. That closes the show.”