LaShawn Puts Best Foot Forward
by Devon Jeffreys
When the call came on Thursday, with word on whether he would be allowed to compete in the 2012 Olympics, LaShawn Merritt was unsure what to expect.
"I knew the ruling was coming out soon. I didn't want to pick up [the phone]," he said. "It felt like when you're driving and the police pull up behind you. My heart dropped."
But with that call came good news from his agent. The Court of Arbitration for Sport had thrown out the rule that was to bar he and fellow suspended athletes from the London Olympic Games. He would be allowed to defend his title in the 400 meters.
"For a couple of minutes, I was kind of in shock," he said of his reaction to the ruling. "But to be able to go back and defend my title at the Olympic games, there's nothing better than that."
Following the ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, LaShawn felt a wide-range of emotions
The reaction in Portsmouth, Virginia, where LaShawn's mother awaited the news was likewise joyful. Brenda Stukes received a call from her sister at five minutes to six on Thursday morning with a message to turn on the news. It was with that flip of the channel that Brenda would learn of her son's fate, as she told the Virginian Pilot.
"Of course, it took a while for it to come on," Stukes said. "She told me I had to wait to see because she wasn't going to tell me what it was about."
As Stukes watched the news, her face lit up with joy: Flashing across the bottom of the screen was the name of her son.
"It said, 'LaShawn Merritt is able to run in the Olympics,' " she said. "After seeing it I just cried. It's wonderful news."
LaShawn will use the next several months to compete and prepare for those games next August and he'll do so with a great weight lifted from his shoulders. LM revealed to The Associated Press that there were times during his suspension that he contemplated hanging up his spikes. But it was his coach Dwayne Miller, his agent Kimberly Holland and his family that kept the Olympic champion motivated.
"It was tough to train for a long period of time without competing," he said. "Several times, I told my coach that I didn't want to train anymore. There were days I didn't want to get out of bed. There were days I felt like my career was over pretty much. Just them believing in me, having faith that one day everything would be fine [helped]."
But even as LaShawn ran in his first events after the suspension this summer, he often wondered what he was working toward if not the Olympics. He kept pushing, but those questions loomed over his head.
"At one point, we didn't know what was next," Miller said. "That burden is gone. Now he can focus on the Olympics."
Despite the looming questions, he finished in the top two in all six of his races, including first in the last three. He took silver at the World Championships, but not before he set the world lead for the year in the 400 with a 44.35-second run in the preliminaries. He also anchored Team USA to gold in the 4x400 meters.
But with his focus renewed, LaShawn knows he can be even better.
"A lot of this sport is mental. Now, I just feel better. I feel better knowing I can move forward and defend my title and train hard and compete," he said. "Overall, I'm a better person as far as not taking anything for granted. One day you can have something, and the next day it may be gone from a simple mistake."
- Merritt celebrates unexpected win (ESPN.com, October 8, 2011)
- For LaShawn Merritt's mother, a sweet wake-up call (Virginian Pilot, October 7, 2011)