WATCHOUT KEVIN YOUNG, YOUR 400M HURDLES WORLD RECORD DAYS MAY BE NUMBERED…
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Kerron Clement has struck down a world record held for a decade by one of the greats of track and field. And he’s only 19.
The Florida sophomore seemed as surprised as everyone else when he ran 44.57 seconds at the NCAA Indoor track and field championships Saturday night, breaking the mark of 44.63 set by Michael Johnson in 1995.
It was the second phenomenal clocking by a U.S. teenager in the event this season, and both came at the Randal Tyson Track Center. A month ago, 18-year-old LaShawn Merritt of East Carolina ran a 44.93 – then the third-fastest time in the event’s history – at the Tyson Invitational.
But two weeks ago, Merritt signed a shoe contract with Nike and turned professional without ever running in an NCAA meet. That deprived the indoor championships of a big-time showdown, but Clement did just fine on his own.
“He’s been blessed by a wonderful ability by God – he chose the right parents,” Florida coach Mike Holloway said. “He’s an incredibly hard worker. If I get on him about something, he listens and goes out and tries to correct it.”
Clement was born in Trinidad and moved to the United States as an eighth-grader. He was a highly coveted track recruit at La Porte (Texas) High School, recruited by the big powers of the sport, including LSU, Texas and Tennessee. He said no to Baylor coach Clyde Hart, who developed Johnson and 2004 Olympic gold medalist Jeremy Wariner.
After choosing Florida, the easygoing youngster wasted no time in making his mark.
He won the NCAA championship outdoors in the 400 hurdles, then won the world junior championship in the same event, in meet record time. At the junior championships, Clement competed for the United States after earning his U.S. citizenship last summer. He probably could have gone to the Olympics for Trinidad and Tobago last year, but preferred to become an American.
“I love competition and the U.S. has great athletes,” he said. “I want to train with them and run with the best in the world.”
Clement considers himself a hurdler who happens to run the 400, an opinion that he said hasn’t change even after the world record performance. Holloway said Clement will run mostly the hurdles in the outdoor season.
“We were talking about that last week,” Holloway said, “He said, `You know coach, I’m a hurdler. That’s what I want to do. I like the 400, I love the 400 hurdles.”
Holloway saw Clement’s 400 speed kicking into a new gear over the winter.
“Back in February, he ran 46.1 in his opener, which was almost a second and a half faster than he ran last year,” the coach said. “I told him if he was just patient, both of us together, I thought we could do something special.”
But Holloway never dreamed he’d be watching his star pupil break a world record a month later. The mark was even faster than Florida’s outdoor school record of 44.66.
Don’t expect success to spoil him, though. Asked what he would tell the world about himself, Clement said, “I’m a down-to-earth kind of guy. I get along with everybody. I’m always a happy person. I’ve always got a smile on my face.”
After his emotional triumph Saturday, he came back and anchored Florida’s winning 1,600-meter relay team.
“It was very tough,” he said, “but the team depends on me.”
Holloway said Clement’s mother, Claudette, deserves the credit for the young runner’s humility.
“That’s a testament to her because that’s how she raised him,” Holloway said. “I tease him all the time, because if he’s late to practices, I say, ‘I’m going to call your mom’ and he’s, 'Oh no, don’t do that.”