NEWS, NOTES &
The Bradsher Beat
Friday, July 4, 2008
By Bethany Bradsher
A little extra to root for in
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In honor of America’s 232nd birthday today, I
feel inspired to review the highlights of my long-held Olympics obsession.
From watching Mary Lou Retton win in my
grandmother’s Tennessee apartment in 1984, to attending several events live
in Atlanta in 1996, to scattered memories from the Games of my earliest
childhood, I have always been absolutely devoted to devouring every morsel
of the Olympics.
I have already repeated “8-8-08” to my kids more
times than I can count, in response to their “When do the Olympics start?”
It seems I’m raising mini-Olympic junkies.
One of the great things about watching Olympic
events is that a fan automatically becomes a patriot. When you pull for the
home team, you’re pulling for your country, and it’s a little like an
enormous arena with fans cheering just as passionately for Malaysia, Costa
Rica, Luxembourg , Korea.
American pride is certainly reason enough to
tune in, but if Pirates fans want another compelling reason they can review
the East Carolina association, albeit brief, of LaShawn Merritt, who
defeated perennial favorite Jeremy Wariner in the U.S. Olympic Trials on
In what was called the biggest upset of the U.S.
Track and Field Trials, Merritt defeated Wariner by .20 seconds with a time
of 44 seconds flat and the front chair heading to Beijing.
It was the second time Merritt had felled
Wariner in just over a month, beating him first on June 1 in Berlin. Prior
to that race, Wariner had been ranked No. 1 in the world for four straight
Merritt became a Pirate in 2004, when he
enrolled at ECU because of its proximity to his Portsmouth, VA, home and his
good relationship with then-head track coach Bill Carson, who had
coached Merritt at the 2004 World Junior
Championships in Grosseto, Italy.
With three gold medals at that Italy meet before
he ever attended his first ECU class, Merritt had the talent to be one of
the most highly decorated ECU athletes in years.
In his first competitive turn for the Pirates,
the NCAA indoor season, Merritt proved that he needed no warm-up time to
dominate the collegiate stage. At an indoor meet in Fayetteville, AR, on
Feb. 11, 2005, Merritt ran a 44.93 in the 400 meters to set a new indoor
collegiate and world junior record. It was also the third fastest indoor
400-meter time in world history.
The next day at that meet, he won the 200 meters
and set another world junior record.
Merritt swept the 200 and
400 meters at the Conference USA Championships in late February of 2005, but
before he could compete in the NCAA Indoor Championships, he announced at a
March 3 press conference that he would forego his remaining collegiate
eligibility to sign a professional contract with Nike.
At the time of the
announcement, Merritt indicated that he would continue to use the Pirates’
facilities for training and that he would assist Carson as a volunteer
coach. But those continued ECU associations never came to pass, as Merritt
went on to train with his old coach Dwayne Miller back in Virginia.
His accolades since
hanging up his purple uniform include a silver medal in Osaka at the 2007
World Championships (his first sub-44 second performance ever, with a
43.96), a gold in the 4X400 relay at that same Osaka meet, a gold medal in
both the 400 open and the 4X400 relay at the 2006 World Cup in Athens,
Greece, and a gold in the 4X400 relay at the 2006 World Indoor Championships
Pirate fans, of course,
wish that Merritt had stayed around Greenville longer than a truncated
indoor season, so they could have watched firsthand as he turned into the
impressive athlete who is now on top of the track and field world headed to
decision three years ago was clearly not a career setback, and in his
sport many young athletes opt for professional perks rather than
So it’s up to each of you
as to whether you let bygones be bygones. The fact is, LaShawn Merritt was a
Pirate once, and he never enrolled in another college. So I’m sure he would
accept the enthusiasm of both the American Nation and the Pirate Nation with
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07/04/2008 03:18:35 AM