LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It is the perfect scenario for Olympic and world champion Jeremy Wariner, a breathtaking image that he has contemplated countless times.
The date is August 21 and he is thundering toward the finish line of the men’s 400 meters final at the Beijing Games, roared on by a capacity crowd of 91,000 in the Bird’s Nest National Stadium.
Leaving his closest challengers trailing in his wake, the 24-year-old American retains the gold medal he won at the 2004 Athens Olympics by breaking the world record held by his manager and mentor Michael Johnson.
”I think about it all the time,“ said Wariner, who has dominated the 400 for the last four years. ”I would love to break the record on the world’s biggest stage, knowing millions of people are watching and that memories will be made.
“A lot of people still talk about Michael’s 200 in ‘96. If I break the world record in Beijing, I would want them to remember it in the same way.”
Johnson, like Wariner a Texan, shattered his own world record for the 200 with a stunning time of 19.32 seconds at the 1996 Atlanta Games. That mark still stands.
His world 400 record of 43.18 was set at the 1999 world championships in Seville, Spain and it is a measure of the man that he has been doing his best over the last four years to help Wariner go faster.
”The way Michael looks at it, he knows records are meant to be broken,“ Wariner told reporters before last month’s Adidas Track Classic in Carson, California. ”He wants the record to be broken.
”With my talent, the way I train and how dedicated I am in that training, he knows I can break it. He’s told me: ‘You can get it this year, next year or you can get it the year after. When that time comes, you will feel it while you are running.’
“If everything comes together in the right way and I run the perfect race, the shot will be there to break the record. I have the potential to do it and I have the heart to do it. I just have to put everything together at the right time.”
Wariner, whose personal best was the 43.45 seconds he ran to retain his world title in Osaka last September, continues to seek advice from Johnson while being coached by Michael Ford, who this year replaced Clyde Hart as his trainer.
”Michael (Johnson) has never coached me,“ Wariner said of his mentor, who was known for his uniquely upright running style with very short steps. ”He has just given me advice on what he sees in my race.
”He will talk to my coach about it and they will both agree on what I need to work on.
“They will then come to me and let me know what they both saw and we will go from there. Michael (Johnson) has meant a lot to me in my life, just being able to ask him questions on all sorts of different things.”
Perhaps the best advice Wariner has received from Johnson was to get into the minds of his rivals as an invincible runner.
”Michael has always told me that, when I run, I’ve got to put it out there that I am number one and no one is going to beat me,“ he said. ”Just let them know that, on any given day, it’s going to be hard to beat me.
“It’s important for me to win all the way up to the Olympics because I’ve got to keep my focus up and confidence right there, knowing that I have been winning and I can keep doing it.”
Wariner, who wears wrap-around sunglasses when he runs to block out any possible distractions, believes he and Johnson share a similar approach to the mechanics of the 400.
”A lot of people say I make the race look easy but, to me, Michael made the race look really easy,“ he said. ”His stride wasn’t that long but it was all about his speed and strength.
“Technically we both run the same race, although there are a few things different. He was able to run the first 200 a little faster than I am because his speed is a lot better than mine but my strength is better so my last 200 might be a little stronger.”
Editing by Clare Fallon