In a year without World Championships or Olympic berths on the line, favorites can be hard to pick. This was so in the 1-lapper and Houston’s Kahmari Montgomery, just 7th at the NCAA, took it upon himself to essay a surprise. In a final with just two returners from the ’17 USATF clash in Sacramento, the 20-year-old junior transfer from Missouri ran down fellow first-time outdoor finalist Paul Dedewo in the last 40m of the homestretch for a 44.58–44.64 PR win.
Dedewo, 27, an Altis-trained ’11 graduate of Div. III City College of New York, broke 45 for the first time in April and in 9 days in late May/early June put together a string of 44.58 (Rome), 44.50 (Hengelo) and 44.56 (Chorzów). With CR setter Michael Norman and defending champ Fred Kerley passing on this event, that left Tennessee senior Nathon Strother (44.34 at the SEC) as the fastest entrant on paper. But at the NCAA Strother had been knocked out in the semis, leaving Dedewo, if anyone, the best-guess pick to win.
The heats and semis offered few hints—and a slough of lane DQs. NCAA 4th-placer Mar’yea Harris and Brycen Spratling were flagged out from heat IV. Then the first of the two semis, won by Dedewo in 45.03 over Strother (45.10) saw Vernon Norwood, Michael Berry and Rashard Clark pulled for violations. Michael Cherry, the ’17 NCAA 3rd-placer for LSU, won semi II in 44.87 from Montgomery (45.11).
An intriguing sidebar to the proceedings had been Christian Taylor’s entry in a stated quest to better 45. The triple jump star’s closest attempt had been an oh-so-close PR 45.07 in early June, and here he turned 45.74 in his heat and 45.95 in his semi. It was minorly ironic that the latter time was faster than Josephus Lyles’ 45.99, but the brother of sprint star Noah advanced and Taylor did not because the three DQed racers had been in Lyles’ semi.
Montgomery, in hindsight, came to the final perhaps a tad underrated. With a more evenly paced NCAA final, he might have finished significantly higher than 7th. He had run 44.91 at Mt. SAC, a 43.38(!) anchor leg on Houston’s 4×4 at the Penn Relays, and 44.92 in his NCAA semi, but his start in Eugene was aggressive. In the rain-dampened collegiate title race Montgomery reached 200 in 20.9, about even with eventual runner-up Akeem Bloomfield and in front of Michael Norman, and appeared to pay a price for his haste.
Drawing lane 6 here as in Eugene, Montgomery reached 200 in about 21.6, trailing Cherry and Dedewo in 4 and 5. This trio reached 300 with Dedewo a half-step ahead, and Cherry and Montgomery more or less equal along with Arkansas junior Obi Igbokwe in lane 7. As Igbokwe dropped back, Cherry could make no headway against Dedewo’s margin, but Montgomery hoovered it up with an 11.8 split on the run-in. He drew even with 40 or 50m left to run and in the last 35m forged ahead to a foot-and-a-half advantage at the line. Cherry just managed to repel a notable stretch charge by Strother, who at 300 had been 6th and not close to Lyles in 5th. Nonetheless, the Vol ended up short of the former Tiger in 3rd, 44.85–44.89.
“Coming off [the NCAA], I did lose a little confidence because I was expected to do a little better than I did,” Montgomery said. “But like I said, my fight never ended, my drive never finished and I’m not stopping until I can. This whole season was just a huge learning process. Picking off of my freshman year [in which he reached the NCAA semis and placed 2nd at USATF Juniors and 5th at the World Juniors] and then having a bad season last year, this year I really had nothing to lose. In a new environment, new coaches, new team, new everything, it felt like a fresh start, which is something that I really needed to better me and my future. And Houston was obviously the best way to go so I’m here.”
Montgomery said he did make an adjustment between the two June title meets, to “just trust my process and run my own race.”
USATF MEN’S 400 RESULTS
FINAL (June 23)
1. Kahmari Montgomery (Hous) 44.58 PR (21.8/22.8 (11.8);
2. Paul Dedewo (unat) 44.64 21.6/23.1 (12.0);
3. Michael Cherry (Nik) 44.85;
4. Nathan Strother (Tn) 44.89;
5. Obi Igbokwe (Ar) 45.23;
6. Josephus Lyles (adi) 45.31;
7. Wil London (Bay) 45.57;
8. Myles Pringle (Ash) 45.92.
HEATS (June 21)
I–1. Dedewo 45.40; 2. Vernon Norwood (NBal) 45.47; 3. Rashard Clark (AMCom) 45.54 =PR; 4. Lyles 45.706; 5. Christian Taylor (Nik) 45.74; 6. Dontavius Wright (unat) 46.258.
II–1. Pringle 45.814; 2. Igbokwe 45.95; 3. Strother 46.28;
4. Aldrich Bailey (unat) 47.08; 5. Donte Holmes (DCI) 47.41; 6. Tyrell Richard (SC) 47.43; 7. Marqueze Washington (unat) 47.60.
III–1. Montgomery 45.71; 2. Mike Berry (Nik) 46.03; 3. Quintaveon Poole (WayB) 46.04;
4. Mylik Kerley (TxAM) 46.58; 5. Cameron Parker (unat) 47.80.
IV–1. Cherry45.77; 2. London 45.82; 3. Marcus Chambers (NikCNW) 45.93; 4. Calvin Smith (unat) 46.49;
… dq—Mar’yea Harris (Ia), Brycen Spratling (NYAC).
SEMIS (June 22)
I–1. Dedewo 45.03; 2. Strother 45.10; 3. Pringle 45.38; 4. Lyles 45.99;
5. Smith 46.24;… dq— Berry, Clark, Norwood.
II–1. Cherry 44.87; 2. Montgomery 45.11; 3. Igbokwe 45.21; 4. London 45.35;
5. Taylor 45.95; 6. Chambers 46.13; 7. Wright 46.47; 8. Poole 46.78.