THIS, RAI BENJAMIN’S first appearance in a USATF Championships, was the 22-year-old USC alum’s title contest to lose and, mindful of the stakes, he checked all the boxes with powerful poise. He won by almost a second and a half in 47.23, the No. 9 all-time U.S. performance and the No. 3 clocking on his personal résumé. Two-time World Ranker TJ Holmes repeated as runner-up, clocked at 48.58, as ’19 Houston senior Amere Lattin snagged the third team spot with a PR 48.66.
The formchart had been a puzzle to formulate with just 6 under 49 on the yearly U.S. list, and the 4 immediately following Benjamin on the tabulation all having run their bests at the NCAA 7 weeks prior. Reigning champion Kenny Selmon was a no-show. Stalwart elite vet Bershawn Jackson retired at the end of last season. Rio Olympic champ Kerron Clement, 33, was here but had seen the sunny side of 49 seconds just once since medaling (bronze) at the ’17 Worlds. Then NCAA titlist Quincy Hall, slotted No. 2 on the chart, failed to show for his heat.
Benjamin rolled through the rounds as expected leading the heat results with 49.61 and setting down the only sub-49 of the prelims to win semi II in 48.30 from last year’s 3rd-placer Khallifah Rosser, whose 49.05 was his seasonal best. Lattin had taken semi I in 49.12 from David Kendziera, who was next on the chart after the absent Hall. Clement—to be frank, not looking his best—slid into the final as 4th-placer in semi I (49.83).
For the final, the question was, How would Benjamin, coming off a 47.16 win at the Pre Classic, play this? Answer: About as he had at Pre, cadence regulated through the first half, quick by all but the most exalted standards but saving his attack for the last 5 hurdles. Running in lane 4, he reached hurdle 5 in 2nd a step behind Rosser (lane 5) but quickly devouring ground. The two were even at 200m (22.7) but through the curve Benjamin grew his margin to 2½m at hurdle 8. Over hurdle 10 that gap had swelled to 7½. Rosser still ran 2nd but the field other than Clement was closing as Texas Tech’s Norman Grimes in lane 3 and Holmes (8) vied for 2nd.
Benjamin crossed the line ahead by 10m. Holmes won the war among the others in the run-in and Lattin (lane 6) eked out a tight tussle for the third team spot 0.02 in front of Grimes with Kendziera another 100th back.
Said Benjamin, “Of course I want to run faster, but it’s OK. I mean, the conditions were really good out there, it was hot out there, I’m just happy to make that team and just be able to represent the USA.” Using a 13-step stride pattern throughout, he looked to have produced the cadence he hoped for. “It’s all about getting the right rhythm down,” he said, “and throughout the season my rhythm has been changing a lot.”
One imagines that highly anticipated imminent meetings with Karsten Warholm and/or Abderrahmane Samba—the only hurdlers on the world scene who currently appear to be in Benjamin’s league—could call for rhythm changes on the fly sooner than later.
USATF MEN’S 400H RESULTS
1. Rai Benjamin (Nik) 47.23 (x, 9 A);
2. TJ Holmes (Nik) 48.58;
3. Amere Lattin (CLAth) 48.66 PR;
4. Norman Grimes (TxT) 48.68 PR;
5. David Kendziera (unat) 48.69;
6. Byron Robinson (adi) 49.09;
7. Khallifah Rosser (unat) 49.14;
8. Kerron Clement (Nik) 50.08.
1. Clement; 2. Robinson; 3. Grimes; 4. Benjamin; 5. Rosser; 6. Lattin; 7. Kendziera; 8. Holmes
Lattin 0.151; Robinson 0.153; Benjamin 0.172; Clement 0.182; Grimes 0.203; Kendziera 0.210; Rosser 0.244; Holmes 0.279
I–1. Holmes 49.87; 2. Kendziera 50.04; 3. William Wynne (unat) 50.57; 4. Eric Fogltanz (IaSt) 50.83; 5. Trevor Bassitt (Ash) 50.84 PR;… dq—Nate Bruno (unat).
II–1. Lattin 49.66; 2. Grimes 50.20; 3. Michael Stigler (adi) 51.48; 4. Larry Donald (unat) 51.82; 5. Kalmon Stokes (unat) 51.88;… dq—Craig Allen (unat).
III–1. Benjamin 49.61; 2. Robinson 50.44; 3. Quincy Downing (unat) 50.56; 4. Peter Girardi (GardStNB) 50.67; 5. Rasheed Tatham (unat) 51.47; 6. Naim Fareed (unat) 53.23.
IV–1. Clement 49.79; 2. Rosser 49.90; 3. Nicholas Hilson (Ar) 50.03; 4. Johnny Dutch (unat) 50.08; 5. Chris Davis (unat) 51.55.
I–1. Lattin 49.12; 2. Kendziera 49.21; 3. Grimes 49.43; 4. Clement 49.83; 5. Downing 50.16; 6. Girardi 50.27 PR; 7. Wynne 51.45; 8. Fogltanz 51.92.
II–1. Benjamin 48.30; 2. Rosser 49.05; 3. Holmes 49.46; 4. Robinson 49.59; 5. Dutch 49.79; 6. Hilson 49.92; 7. Bassitt 51.09; 8. Stigler 53.45.