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Olympic countdown: Van Niekerk, Shaunae Miller chase second gold in 400m

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Mumbai, July 19 (IANS) While the focus in the Olympics has always been on 100m — the blue riband of all competitions — and 200 metres, the 400m is no less glamorous given that some of the biggest names have competed in the event and cornered glory.

Michael Johnson of the United States in men’s and Marie-Jose Perec of France in women’s section are some of the legends of 400m, owning the world and Olympic records for years, and the only ones to win two gold medals in the Olympics in successive editions.

Johnson won his first Olympic gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and defended his title four years later in Sydney. His Olympic record of 43.49 stood the test of time for two decades before it was broken in Rio 2016, while Marie-Jose, whose record of 48.25 still stands, won the first title in1992 and defended it four years later in Atlanta.

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In Tokyo, South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk has a chance to join Johnson as the second male quarter-miler to win two Olympic 400m gold medals. In 2016, Van Niekerk won the men’s 400m gold medal with a world record time of 43.03 seconds, bettering the time of 43.18 seconds set by Johnson at the 1999 World Championships in Seville, Spain.

But van Niekerk is likely to face a tough challenge from Americans Michael Norman, Randolf Ross, and Michael Cherry. Norman has the best time of 43.46 in 400m but has done 43.06 in a relay in 2018.

Though it is difficult to replicate that timing, Van Niekerk himself does not seem in his element recently and has a best of 44.56 seconds this season. He has been battling injuries in the last seasons since winning the gold at Rio.

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He was out of action for more than a year after seriously injuring his knee while playing in a charity rugby match in October 2017. Though he has returned to action, he has struggled to get back his form of 2016.

Just like Van Niekerk, Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas is in line to do a repeat of her 2016 gold medal-winning performance. Shaunae had won the gold medal in 49.44 seconds with American veteran Allyson Felix, who took silver in 49.51.

Both Shaunae and Allyson will be going head-to-head again, with the American legend hoping to win a medal in her fifth Olympics. Allyson has won six gold and two silver medals in the Olympics starting with the 200m silver in Athens in 2004. She shifted to 400m at the Rio Olympics and will be hoping to give Shaunae a run for her money.

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Shaunae, 27, has the second-best time of this season — 49.08 in April — and will be hoping to better it in Tokyo.

Christine Mboma of Namibia has clocked the best time of the year so far, 48.54 seconds, in June but she has been barred from the Olympics over high testosterone levels.

This means the race will again be between Shaunae and Allyson. But considering their form and advancing age, will they be able to come close to Marie-Jose’s record of 48.25?

–IANS

bsk/akm

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