In the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, LaShawn Merritt won gold in both the 400 and 4x400 meter events. Then, in October 2010, he was suspended for 21 months after failing a doping test. At 25 years old though, he has regained his status as one of the elite sprinters in the world, having captured four gold medals in his past six World Championship appearances.
The Portsmouth, Virginia native says he is "a late bloomer to the sport," given his football and baseball background. In the 2008 games, he broke the Olympic record in the relay for the American team, recording the second fastest time ever. Merritt recently took some time from his strenuous training schedule to speak with The Huffington Post.
How is your training coming along, less than six months away from London?
This is a major year for the sport of track and field. For the general public, a lot of people only know Olympics, but we actually have a season every year. This year has just been a lot of focus; a lot of focus mentally and spiritually and just training hard.
Is there something technique wise that you've specifically worked on improving?
We haven’t even worked on anything different yet, because it's early. It's just a lot of base training now; the pool workouts, the lifting and breaking the body down to get it ready so it will be able to last all the way through the Olympic Games in August.
Are you fully healthy right now?
I'm healthy; been keeping up with my nutrition and my massages and been seeing my therapist and the whole nine, you know. I'm feeling good about the season, to get to the Olympics and just defend my titles.
Who is your stiffest competition right now?
In the US you have Jeremy Wariner, who won the 2004 Olympics. You have Kirani James (Grenada), who just won the World Championships last year, the Borlee (Kevin and Jonathan) twins out of Belgium and Jermaine Gonzales out of Jamaica. Every Olympic year, somebody always comes out of the woodworks, whether it be a younger athlete or somebody old trying to make a comeback, so there's no room right now for any distractions because this is the year that makes people.
Do you talk or train with [US teammate] Jeremy Wariner?
We don’t train together. He's in Texas and I'm on the east coast. We communicate when we're at meets, but not too much during the training. It's sort of like we're co-workers in terms of getting on the track and running the event, but at the end of the day we want each other's promotion. It's a mutual respect. But I [still] want to win and he wants to win.
What was the hardest thing about returning after the two-year-ban?
I pretty much jumped right back into it. The hardest thing was actually getting race sharp and feeling the connection from my body to my mind and it telling my body to do one thing, which comes from races and actually being in the moment. I felt like I was in the best shape of my life physically, but in certain races, I just didn’t feel as sharp. I took that as motivation to go out in 2011 and still run the world's fastest time and to know that I'm ready and my ability hasn’t changed. It's a matter of getting to London and laying it all out.
Did you have a role model in the sport as a kid?
You know what: I really didn’t grow up knowing about the sport of track and field. I was actually a baseball and a football player. The first Olympics I ever watched was 2004 and that was my senior year in high school. I'm sort of a late bloomer to the sport, both in viewing and participating in it. Like I knew who Michael Johnson was just because of his popularity, but I couldn't tell you what he ran or anything of that matter, because I wasn't interested in track and field. Now that I chose to do this as a career with this God-given talent that I'm blessed with, I have done my history and watched previous Olympics. There are some guys -- men and women -- who've left the legacy in the sport.
Why do you think the 400 doesn’t have the illustrious nature of the 100 to the public?
The 100 is like the sexy event; everybody is lined up right beside each other. It's so easy to tell who's in the lead, whose behind and who will win. The general public gets confused with the 400, being that it's run on a stagger. I've had a lot of people be like 'why do you start so far back,' and 'there's another guy who looks like he started further.'
Once you break it down at 300, it's kind of even and they kind of get it some. To actually know about that 400 -- to know the pain and the lactic acid in the critical zones -- you have to know a little bit about it. It doesn't look like we're running as fast because it is 400 meters. Being that the NFL is so huge, especially here in the US, you think of the 40 [yard dash]; whose the fastest man?
Speaking of the 40, did you ever run one?
I actually ran a couple years ago. I went to a [NFL] combine in Virginia Beach, and actually ran a 4.19. There are some track and field athletes that ran the 40; whether they put it on Youtube or just in practice to see what they could run. There are some pretty fast track and field runners over 40 yards.
We often hear of the differences between track speed and football speed. Some guys post great times, but when they get on a football field, they aren't nearly as fast or dynamic. Why do you think that is?
It’s totally different; somebody running a 40 or the 100 knows that from the gun, it's about angles; it's about power, arm movement and hip position. There are a lot of variables that go into starting with the elite of the elite in the world. Then you have a football player -- it's different because they're used to having a football in their hands. In football speed, you have agility, the lateral movement, but to just a regular track and field athlete who's never played football, the running is different.
Entering this summer, is your mindset gold-gold or bust?
For me, I train to win. Every day my mentality is train to win. I work hard and let my hard work be my confidence once I line up. Going into London, the only thing that will be on my mind is getting gold medals. The first time I think about a silver or a bronze or anything less, I've already sold myself short. Gold-gold will definitely just be on my mind period.
When will you make the trip?
Olympic trials are in June; you have to place top three in the US to make the Olympic team. That’s not for every country because every country is not as big and the talent is not as big, so some people automatically just get to go. We'll actually go over maybe three weeks before it starts.
Will you have an opportunity to enjoy the festivities around the Olympics?
In 2008, we got there early and I had the chance to get the whole Olympic village thing. I had the chance to go to some boxing matches and basketball games. I'll embrace it this year, but not lose too much focus; still know what I came there to do. I came there to do a job. When it's time to lock down, I'll be totally locked in.
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