One year after his Olympic dreams faded along with his strength during the final meters in Tokyo, Michael Norman held off the world’s best quarter-milers Friday night for 400-meter gold medal at the world track and field championships by outrunning a tight pack of challengers over the final 100 meters to the roars of a raucous Hayward Field.
Norman, who was a record-breaking star at Vista Murrieta High and USC finished in 44.29 seconds to fill the only considerable gap on his young resume — a victory in a global championship.
Kirani James earned silver in 44.48 and Britain’s Matthew Hudson-Smith took bronze, with American Champion Allison placing fourth.
Norman’s title continued the dominance of the U.S. men in the sprints, coming one night after a sweep of the medals in the 200 and six days after another sweep in the 100.
Effusive off the track, Norman was stoic during his introduction, raising his arms above his head to acknowledge loud cheers, but with a stern expression. But with one stride to go before the finish, he raised his arms again — this time allowing a smile to broaden.
In an on-track interview, he called his last three years a “challenging, challenging journey.”
Norman has been one of the world’s fastest over 200 and 400 meters since he was a prep senior in 2016 but had yet to turn the promise of his college record into serious individual hardware in a world championship or Olympics, the stages by which track’s elite are judged. In each case, he could identify a clear reason. But that was not the case with his fifth-place finish in last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.
His training in the months leading to Tokyo had not gone well, with Norman and his father, Michael, showing concern from the first workout. It didn’t ease the Olympic sting.
“A devastating moment for myself,” Norman said.
Everything about his training since, he said in May, had built toward redeeming himself in Eugene in front of the first U.S. crowd to watch a world outdoor championship. Norman raced over to his father and coach, Quincy Watts, after the title.
Friday offered the unexpected. American Kara Winger, in fifth place in the javelin and down to her final throw, uncorked a throw of 210 feet 1 inch that pushed her into silver. She covered her face with the knowledge that, at age 36, she had earned her first medal in a world championship or Olympics. The Washington native, with a large group of supporters, began cheering her name rhythmically as she looked for a flag to carry around the track.
Even more stunning was that for at least one more race, Allyson Felix’s retirement is on hold. One week after she earned a bronze medal in the mixed 4×400 relay in what U.S. officials and Felix herself intimated was the last run of her illustrious career, the sprinter who burst out of Los Angeles Baptist nearly two decades earlier will run in the women’s 4×400 relay semifinals Saturday. U.S. track officials had asked whether she would run, an offer she could not turn down, Felix told the Associated Press.
The day, crucially for the United States, produced no surprises in the qualifying rounds of the 4×100-meter relays. The U.S. women cruised into Saturday’s final in 41.56 seconds — 0.43 faster than the second-fastest qualifier, Britain — despite a two-handed baton pass by Jenna Prandini, following her blistering third leg, to anchor runner Twanisha Terry.
The U.S. men, the Jekyll and Hyde of the short relay for two decades, also will enter their Saturday final with the fastest qualifying time after the seamless first handoff between Christian Coleman and Noah Lyles — two members from the U.S. gold-medal team in 2019 — put Elijah Hall and Marvin Bracy-Williams in position to finish in a world-leading 37.87 seconds. That lineup isn’t guaranteed to run in Saturday’s final, which the U.S. will enter as the heavy favorite to win gold. Lyles’ leg Friday was his fourth race in the last five days, but 24 hours after he set the American record in the 200, he said, with a broad smile, that he “woke up good today.”
The Americans’ clean run was a result of trust and practice at “relay camp,” Bracy-Williams said. Their preparation wasn’t limited to handoffs. Amid an interview, Lyles sang a bar from Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares” — a title that, considering the U.S. history in the event, felt appropriate.
“I used to pray for times like this,” Lyles said, pointing to teammates who answered, “to rhyme like this, so I had to grind like that to shine like this!”
They will have their opportunity to shine Saturday. Because Friday belonged to Norman.