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ODU Student LaShawn Merritt Runs 400-meter Sprint in Beijing Today

Old Dominion University student LaShawn Merritt will run in the first heat of the men's 400-meter race today at the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Merritt has already had a great summer with his victory at the Olympic trials in Eugene, Ore., where he defeated archrival and fellow American Jeremy Wariner, the defending Olympic gold medalist.

Merritt and Wariner will meet again today at the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium in Beijing.

Merritt began to garner attention from the national track and field audience when he won the 100-, 200- and 400-meter sprints at the Virginia state championships in 2004. Yet his real breakout came in 2005, when he ran what was then the third-fastest 400-meter indoor time in history at the Powered by Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark. He was only 18 years old.

"I was the only collegian in that race, and I was a freshman," Merritt said. "I don't think they even expected me to win, let alone run it that fast."

Dwayne Miller, Merritt's former coach at Woodrow Wilson High School in Portsmouth, knew early on that Merritt had the potential to be a great athlete.

"He's definitely special," Miller said. "He's fast, strong and tall. You line all those up, and you've got something."

Merritt set his best time in the 400 at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan, in which he became only the ninth man in history to break the 44-second mark, turning in a 43.96. He also won a gold medal as part of the 1,600-meter relay team at that event. He finished the 2007 season ranked No. 2 in the world by Track and Field News.

Regardless of Merritt's success on the track, Miller has constantly emphasized the importance of getting an education. "I told him, 'I got one, so you have to, too,'" said Miller, who graduated from Norfolk State University in 1988 with a degree in mass communications.

Merritt transferred in 2005 from East Carolina University to ODU, where he is majoring in sport management. In order to avoid conflicts with his training schedule, he takes classes in the fall, when he can more fully devote attention to his studies. He said that he's having fun dividing his time between sprinting and school, and isn't in a hurry to graduate.

"It's cool, because it lets me focus on both track and class," he said. "Plus, it gives me something to do besides train."

Merritt credits Miller and his parents as the big influences in his life. He said that having Miller, someone he trusts, as a constant in his track career has been a big help.

"He's been with me since high school," Merritt said. "Even when I went away to college, I was always calling him and asking him for advice. He hasn't just been a big influence on my training, he's been a big influence on my life, period."

Merritt wasn't surprised to make the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, and he has taken that confidence and determination with him to greatest sporting event in the world. "This is my job; this is what I do," he said. "Every time I go out on that track, I expect to perform."

This article was posted on: August 11, 2008

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