Home International Olympics Who Will be Crowned King of the Quarter-Mile—James, Merritt, Van Niekerk?

Who Will be Crowned King of the Quarter-Mile—James, Merritt, Van Niekerk?


For many track and field fans, the 400 meter dash is probably the most interesting and competitive race in Rio. Over the past two seasons, three athletes have separated themselves from the competition and are heavy favorites to stand on the podium at the XXXI Olympiad. The question remains—who will be crowned King of the Quarter-Mile?

Here are some tidbits about who I believe will medal in Rio in the 400 meter dash.

Kirani James (Gold Medal)
Kirani James is my former teammate at the University of Alabama. He joined the Crimson Tide program in 2010 as a 17-year old freshman and he is still the best athlete I’ve seen in person. He will represent his native country Grenada, where he is already a sports icon. Kirani is my favorite to win gold and defend his Olympic title from London. He has an excellent blend of speed and endurance and is one of the best finishers in the 400 meter event. I believe he and his coach Harvey Glance are motivated to win another gold medal for Grenada, although the challenge will be much more difficult this time around.

Wayde van Niekerk (Silver Medal)
Wayde van Niekerk is a 23-year-old South African sprinter who set the track and field world on fire at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing. Van Niekerk won gold at last year’s world championships defeating James and Merritt with a sensational time of 43.48. He, in my opinion, is the biggest threat to dethrone James as Olympic champion. Van Niekerk is the first man in history to dip under 10 in the 100m, 20 in the 200m, and 44 in the 400m. He has had a good year so far and even spent time training with the same training camp as Usain Bolt. Can we expect another amazing performance from van Niekerk in Rio? Only time will tell.

LaShawn Merritt (Bronze Medal)
Veteran LaShawn Merritt of the United States is the 2008 Olympic champion over 400 meters and has run the fastest times in the world this year over 200m (19.74) and 400m (43.97). He will attempt the double in Rio, but his best chance of winning gold is his main event, the 400 meter dash. Merritt has been impressive throughout the 2016 season and won the U.S. Olympic Trials over 400m and finished second in the 200m behind Justin Gatlin. Merritt holds a personal best of 43.65 over 400m, which was set last year at the Beijing World Championships. Sports Illustrated has him winning the gold in Rio. I beg to differ. He lost to James earlier in the year over 400m and van Niekerk over 300m. Although those losses were earlier in the year and at this point do not matter, I believe Merritt will end up with the bronze medal.

Sports Illustrated 400m Medal Predictions
• LaShawn Merrit, USA (Gold)
• Kirani James, Grenada (Silver)
• Wayde van Niekerk, South Africa (Bronze)

Track and Field News 400m Medal Predictions
• Wayde van Niekerk, South Africa (Gold)
• Kirani James, Grenada, (Silver)
• LaShawn Merritt, USA, (Bronze)

The heats for the 400 meter dash are set to start on August 12 with the final set to fire off on August 14. Set your watches; this could be the fastest 400 meter Olympic final ever.

Comment on who you think will win the 400 meter dash in Rio.

By Dr. Brandon Spradley

Dr. Spradley is the Director of Sports Management at the United States Sports Academy, and can be reached at bspradley@ussa.edu.




  1. This is definitely tough to call. I want to say I see Merritt bringing home the gold followed by James … I’m excited for 400 meter final

  2. My heart is pulling for Merritt but I believe Kirani and Wayde will battle for the gold. Eventhough Merritt has shown his tremendous speed over 200 and 400 meters I believe his strategy of a consistent steady pace over the 400 is not enough to hold off the other two. For some reason he is unable to summon the strong finishing kick like the other two. Which is confusing because he is the fastest of the three over 200 meters by a good margin. So it shows he has the speed endurance to beat those guys. I hope Merritt wins but based on past results he will not be able to maintain and the stronger kicks of Kirani and Wayde will overtake him. Unless he has figured out a new strategy of overcoming their strong kicks.

  3. Take those three guys above, if one of the three is significantly younger, he will win. The reason is the Olympics is a grueling 3 400 Meter races in 3 days. Everything else being equal, younger athlete will ALWAYS prevail.

    Case in point, Cruz vs Coe 1984 800 M Final. If it’s a one off race with no prelims, it would have been very close. But Cruz was like 21 years old and won by clear margin.

  4. van Niekerk decelerates at a lower rate than James or Merritt. From
    my training with Vince Matthews I know from experience that 500 and
    600 meter overdistance training has positive in all races. Remember,
    Bolt was a teenage sensation as a quarter miler. He carries that strength in his 100’s. He and van Niekerk decelerate slower than any of their competitors in the final 25% of the respective distances

  5. It’s definitely hard to go against Merritt, especially since he is running so well right now. It will be interesting to see what time he is capable of running in the 400m. I was actually surprised that he ran 43.65 last year. I’m definitely pulling for Kirani to defend his title. The guy who concerns me the most is van Niekerk. He is the guy we should definitely watch out for.

  6. I think all three have a shot to win, but Merritt is my choice. He ran 43.65 from lane 8, with James and Niekerk having the strategic advantage of seeing him the entire race. Neikerk was carted off the track after his amazing 43.48. James and Merritt we’re still standing after the race and appeared to have more race in them. There will be six sub-44 sprinters in Rio. It may take more than one sub 44 performance to make it through the rounds. Merritt has been the most consistent of the three and will run as fast as needed to advance. If he has to run 43 point to advance he is durable enough to do it again in the finals. At the end of the day it is going to be a great race. A sleeper to get into the top three as well. Look for Steve Lewis’ under 20 400 world record to be threatened by the kid from Botswana.

  7. This is a tough call as the three favorites personal best are separated only by a few tenths, not to mention all three are excellent strategist and are very race sharp and ready for anything. I can’t help but go with Merritt for the Gold because of race readiness at every major championship he’s raced in except for injury and suspension. Merritt new 200 PR gives him the edge also and he nearly did it again at the US championships, James for Silver and Niekerk for Bronze.


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