As good as the United States men have been in global championship 400s, their performance indoor has been lacking. The U.S. hasn’t won gold at the World Indoor Championships since 2003, and in the last eight editions of the meet, the United States has only three medals total. For a nation as rich in depth at the 400m as the U.S., that’s hard to believe.
The United States has performed well in the 4x400m, setting a world record in 2014, but individually it has been just average. Compare that with the U.S.'s medal record outdoors — 12 medals in the last eight outdoor championships — and its indoor showings are even more striking.
There are a couple reasons for the disparity between indoors and outdoors. The 400m indoors is a wildly different event than it is outdoors. It has less in common with its outdoor counterpart than perhaps any other event (60m and 60m hurdles excluded). Outdoors, it’s a race confined to lanes. Indoors, it's a mad dash to the pole as the runners break out of lanes after 200 meters. That fact alone can dissuade many of the top Americans from racing.
Second, the overlapping schedule with the NCAA season means that collegians rarely compete at the U.S. and World Championships indoors. And collegians are a source of the country’s best 400m runners. This year is no different. Three of the top five Americans on the 2018 list won’t race in Albuquerque, New Mexico, because they are still competing for their NCAA teams. Despite that, this year looks like the United States might have the team to get back to the top of the podium at the World Indoor Championships.
First though, it will have to qualify at the U.S. Championships this weekend in Albuquerque.
The two non-collegians in the top five on the yearly list, Marqueze Washington and Dontavious Wright, enter the meet with season bests of 45.24 and 45.50. But the favorite to take home the title in Albuquerque, and perhaps end the U.S.’s gold medal drought is Fred Kerley. The former Texas A&M standout has only raced once this year indoors, a 46.25 clocking on January. He does come in with a strong record of success.
Kerley ran 44.85 to win the NCAA indoor title last year. In the summer he won the NCAA and U.S. titles outdoors and went on to finish seventh in the World Championships outdoors. Now that he doesn’t have to manage a college season, expect his performances in the major championships to improve. His 46.25 season best is a bit deceiving, as he ran 44.50 in an outdoor time trial last week.
Washington and Wright will be chasing Kerley for one of the two spots to Birmingham, England, for the World Championships. Washington is in good form. Last weekend in Fayetteville, Arkansas, he ran a lifetime best in the 400m of 45.24. Wright also looks to be in the prime of his career. He just ran 45.50 in Albuquerque on the same track that will host this weekend’s meet.
Like Kerley, Michael Cherry is in his first year as a professional. He’s off to a great start, winning the Millrose Games 400m two weeks ago. Also entered is 4x400m Olympic gold medalist Gil Roberts, who was recently cleared in a high-profile doping case and has run 45.80 this year. Kyle Clemons and Vernon Norwood both have global championship experience and enter with indoor personal bests of 45.60 and 45.31, respectively.
One other name to take note of is high schooler Brian Herron. Earlier this season, Herron broke the world junior record in the indoor 300m, beating fellow phenom Tyrese Cooper. Herron, who is skipping his high school season to run unattached, has an indoor 400m personal best of 46.43 and has a goal of becoming just the second high schooler to break 46 seconds in an indoor 400.