By Charean Williams Fort Wort Star-Telegram
LONDON — The U.S. qualified in the men’s 4×400 relay Thursday morning, but without two of their top runners in the final, questions abound about whether they can keep their gold-medal streak alive.
Jeremy Wariner confirmed he has a torn hamstring, ending his hopes of a third consecutive Olympics with a gold medal. He joins LaShawn Merritt as a spectator.
“After the MRI showed a tear, I decided to call it a season,” Wariner said. “I’m very disappointed to have made the team and not be able to run. I’ve been training so hard these last few weeks to show the coaches I would be ready to help the team out. But I didn’t want to risk not finishing my leg on the relay and the team not being able to run in the final.
“I’m proud to say I made the team, but this will motivate me to focus on my rehab and get ready for next year.”
Wariner qualified only sixth in the 400 at the U.S. Olympic Trials but was selected for the relay pool for his relay experience. He ran the third leg in 2004 and the anchor leg in 2008 in victories by the Americans.
Merritt, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in the 400, injured his left hamstring during a tuneup race in Monaco and pulled up during Olympic qualifying last week.
His injury had promoted Wariner to the anchor leg for the 4×400 final. That was the U.S.’s plan anyway until Wariner’s injury during Olympic training.
Wariner said he tweaked his hamstring Friday but worked out on Monday after testing it over the weekend.
“I might have made it worse on Monday,” he said, adding an MRI revealed the tear.
The Americans have won every 4×400 Olympic relay they have competed in since 1976. But the names running for Team USA this year are not familiar.
Manteo Mitchell, Joshua Mance, Tony McQuay and Bryshon Nellum ran the heat Thursday and qualified in 2:58.87, a season best for the U.S.
“Their injuries do affect our relay,” Mitchell said. “They know LaShawn. They know Jeremy. They know these big names. They expect for them to be out there and put on a show for the people, because they’re ‘the fastest people.’ We’re very, very young. But we have a chance to come out and make a name for ourselves and showing the world that, ‘Hey, we’re young, but we can do it as well.’ I think we’re starting to live up to the name of us being the future.”
Wariner said he believes the relay will be “just fine” Friday night. He hopes the same will be said of him.
Wariner, 28, was ranked either first or second in the world in the 400 by Track &Field News every year from 2004-2010. He won an Olympic gold, two world titles, Olympic silver and a world silver in that seven-year span. But he has not run a sub-44-second time in the 400 since a 43.82 in 2008. Injuries since the last Olympics have slowed him.
Wariner had surgery on his right knee in December 2009 after tearing cartilage. That eventually led to a sore hamstring that cut short his 2010 season. Last summer, he tore a ligament in his left foot and needed surgery on his left knee, missing the world championships. Now, another hamstring injury has forced him off the track.
“This is not the end of my career,” Wariner said emphatically. “All I need to do is gain my strength back this off-season. We plan on starting my off-season work in late September. This will give me plenty of time to be ready for the (2013) season.”
His coach, Clyde Hart, believes Wariner will return as a 400 contender again despite Wariner’s injuries and his age.
“I think next year will probably be a really critical year, because it’s the world championships,” Hart said. “…But I don’t think this is, by any means, the end of Jeremy Wariner. He could be the comeback story you’re writing next year.”