Freshman beats two world champs; Felicien due on track for first time since Athens

Updated: February 11, 2005, 11:13 PM ET
Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- East Carolina freshman La Shawn Merritt ran the fastest 400 meters in the world this year, beating the reigning world champion at that distance at the Tyson Invitational on Friday night.

Also, two-time Olympic gold medalist Veronica Campbell ran the fast 60 meters of the year and set a meet record at 7.09 seconds. Kenya's Bernard Lagat ran the third-fastest indoor mile ever, cutting three seconds off his Millrose Games time of last week.

Merritt won in 44.93, more than a second quicker than the 45.94 he ran a week earlier that had been 2005's best. Bershawn Jackson, the 2003 U.S. indoor champion, was second. Reigning world indoor champion Alleyne Francique was fourth.

"It was a pretty tough field, a lot of Olympians," said the 18-year-old Merritt. "I was the only guy from college, but I wasn't going to back down from them."

East Carolina coach Bill Carson said he and Merritt worked out on the University of Arkansas track to figure out where the freshman would run best, and then Merritt followed the plan perfectly.

"I had never run on this track before, so I didn't know what to expect," Merritt said. "I knew coming in that I could run 45 (seconds), and I knew this was the fastest track in the country. When I came in (the final turn), I knew no one was around, and I just wanted to finish strong."

Campbell, from the University of Arkansas, a gold-medal winner in Athens in the 200 and 400 relay and a bronze medalist in the 100, defeated LSU's Muna Lee.

Lagat won the mile in 3:49.89, 1.5 seconds off the world record after being on pace to beat the mark through the first three-quarters of a mile. The world indoor champion in the 3,000 easily defeated a field that included countryman Paul Korir, the world champion at 1,500 meters.

"The pace was fast, and I wanted the guys to get out fast and that happened," said Lagat, who was coming off a 3:52.87 mile at Madison Square Garden last week and a second-place finish in Boston a week earlier.

Entering the meet. Lagat said he was running so well that he would try to set a world record at Fayetteville.

"I thought I would come here and attempt to break the record and, why not, after what I had done in Boston and New York," the 30-year-old Lagat said. "I might as well try while I'm feeling good, because I can't go at this pace forever."

The meet also marked the return to the track of Canadian hurdler Perdita Felicien, who was best in the world last year but fell in the 100-meter hurdles final at the Athens Olympics. She finished fourth Friday night in the 60-meter hurdles, won by Danielle Carruthers (7.98).

Michelle Freeman was second in 7.99, Melissa Morrison-Howard, a two-time Olympic bronze medalist, was third in 8.01.

Savante Stringfellow, last year's world indoor champion in the long jump, finished second to U.S. compatriot Miguel Pate on Friday night.

In the college division, Arkansas' distance medley team finished in 9:29.25, the fourth-fastest time ever in the event.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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