Sprinter Wariner is in an unfamiliar position
12:57 AM CDT on Friday, March 27, 2009
WACO – Jeremy Wariner’s signature sunglasses are not necessary on this day.
The three-time Olympic gold medalist has just finished working out in a thorough downpour at the Baylor track, though he’s dry now. A waiting sack lunch from Sonic tempts him to finish talking.
But not before he gets his point across. Wariner, the 25-year-old from Grand Prairie and Arlington Lamar, is unaccustomed to the position he’s in: No. 2 in the world in the 400 meters.
To Wariner, it’s unacceptable. It’s gnawing at him, and it’s time to do something about it.
TOM FOX / DMN
Jeremy Wariner (foreground) won an Olympic gold medal in 2008 for the U.S. men’s 4x400 meter relay team.
View largerMore photos Photo store “The way I ended my season last year, I didn’t want it to end that way,” he said. “So this year I want to change it. That’s why I’m working harder, and I got refocused.”
Wariner is scheduled to run the 200 meters Saturday (finals are scheduled for 6 p.m.) at UT-Arlington’s Bobby Lane Invitational as he eases into the new season.
The season will culminate at the 2009 World Championships in August in Berlin, where Wariner will defend his 2005 and 2007 world titles and try to regain some of what’s been lost.
“He’s been a little more hungry,” said Mike Ford, Wariner’s coach. “The feeling after the Olympics wasn’t a good one.”
2008 simply wasn’t a good year. After monopolizing the 400 meters worldwide since winning gold at the 2004 Athens Games, a bold rival emerged.
American LaShawn Merritt took Wariner’s Olympic title, his No. 1 ranking and his invincibility.
Wariner still won gold at the Beijing Games with a 4x400 relay team that set an Olympic record. He earned silver behind Merritt in the 400.
Michael Johnson, the legendary Olympic and World champion and Warnier’s agent and mentor, criticized Wariner’s Olympic performance. Wariner never endangered Johnson’s world record (43.18), as he had looked primed to do in 2007.
Wariner visibly bristled several times leading up to and during the Games when questioned about the surprise move to switch coaches – from Clyde Hart, a Baylor legend and 400 master, to Ford, a Baylor assistant coach.
Ford said he and Wariner were “on an island by ourselves” at times last season.
“I don’t want to go back to last year very much,” said Ford, who still watches tape of the last 100 meters of Wariner’s 400 in Beijing trying to pinpoint why Wariner didn’t have enough left to challenge Merritt.
Wariner, as he’s contended all along, said the coaching switch isn’t why he didn’t defend his Olympic title.
“I’m tired of people saying that honestly,” Wariner said. "Nothing changed last year. It was just unfortunate things happened. For one, LaShawn Merritt got better.
“I learned from my mistakes. I learned from the races that I lost, what I did wrong. I learned how to correct them.”
Wariner said he and Hart still have a good relationship, and he can still ask Hart for advice.
But Wariner is sick of talking about coaches – and about last season.
That’s why Wariner, who is in his final year of his current contract with adidas, says he’s rededicated to training and getting stronger. He’s cut down his rest between sets to force him to run when his body still hasn’t recovered. He hasn’t missed a practice or weight room session.
Even as he looks forward to the completion of his new home at Craig Ranch in McKinney – he will train part-time at Johnson’s performance center there but still workout mostly in Waco – it’s clear he’s not OK with being No. 2.
Saddled with the weight of constantly proving and reproving himself – and with what appears to be a long-term rival in Merritt – Wariner seems ready to face it.
“Some people have said that since he beat me last year, I’m done,” Wariner said. “But I’m just working harder to get back where I was to show them it’s not true.”
Bobby Lane Invitational, Saturday, UT-Arlington (200-meter finals are scheduled for 6 p.m.)