Athletics: James leads Merritt, Van Niekerk into 400 final

Sat Aug 13, 2016 8:44pm EDT
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By Nick Mulvenney

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Reigning champion Kirani James clocked a season-best 44.02 seconds to lead LaShawn Merritt and Wayde van Niekerk into the final of the 400 meters at the Rio Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

The Grenadian got off to a great start and managed to hold off American Merritt, his predecessor as Olympic champion, coming into the home straight before both eased up knowing the first two home were guaranteed a spot in Sunday's final.

"In a race like that it is always tough," James said. "I had the inside lane so I could see what LaShawn was doing, and now I will just relax a bit and get some rest.

"Tomorrow is going to be a dog fight"

Merritt, who was unable to defend his title in London after suffering a hamstring injury in the heats, clocked 44.21 for the second best time of the semi-finals and suggested he had plenty in reserve.

"It was cool," he said. "First round handled it well. 45.2, not too much energy put out. Great track, nice atmosphere. I feel good."

Van Niekerk, who won a thrilling race between the trio to win the world title in 43.48 in Beijing last year, also got off to a flyer but, perhaps keeping something in reserve, eased up over the last 20 meters to finish in 44.45.

Trinidad and Tobago's Machel Cedenio served a reminder that the final will not be a three-man affair when he overtook the South African at the line to win the heat in 44.39 meters.   Continued...

2016 Rio Olympics - Athletics - Semifinal - Men's 400m Semifinals - Olympic Stadium - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 13/08/2016.  LaShawn Merritt (USA) of USA, Nery Brenes (CRC) of Costa Rica and Kirani James (GRN) of Grenada compete. REUTERS/David Gray