EUGENE, Ore. (AP) _ Kirani James won the 400 meters Saturday in the Prefontaine Classic, pulling away from a strong field at Hayward Field.
James, the 2012 Olympic champion from Grenada, and American rival LeShawn Merritt ran side by side on the final curve before James turned it on, finishing in a world-best 43.95 seconds, two-hundredths of a second faster than the time he and Merritt ran at the meet this year.
James won that race as well and holds a 9-5 edge against Merritt.
“It’s something that you always have to take seriously. You can’t take any athlete for granted,” James said. “There are a lot of talented athletes, a lot of guys capable of doing great things, so you always have to stay on top of your game and make sure that you try to do all the right things to be successful.”
Merritt, the 2008 400 Olympic champion, was bothered by a knee injury in February and March that limited his training.
“We’re kind of doing the training a little backwards,” Merritt said. “I have to run myself into shape. But the beauty of it is I have the bye so I don’t have to peak for nationals. Just train and get ready for Beijing. I’ve been running races, learning every race, and I’ll put it together.’’
American Justin Gatlin showed that he’s not done at age 32. He won the 200 in 19.68, matching his lifetime best to break the Hayward Field record. It was the fastest time in the world this year.
“I’m very proud of that, to be able to come out here and run with these young guys,” Gatlin said. “I think age is nothing but a number, and I just want to come out and show the fans that it doesn’t matter what race you’re in you’ve got to give it your all.”
Tyson Gay won the 100 in 9.88, ahead of fellow American Michael Rodgers (9.90).
Gay, whose doping case led to the 2012 U.S. men’s 400 relay team being stripped of its Olympic silver medals, accepted a one-year ban in 2014.
He has a goal of making the U.S. team for the world championships later this year. The USA championships will be held at Hayward in June.
“I want to make the team, man,” Gay said. “A lot of people don’t know, I haven’t competed in the world championships since 2009. That’s been a very long time, and people don’t realize it because I’ve been around the sport for so long.
“So to make the team would be a huge blessing for me because I haven’t been in that environment for so long, it would be great for me to get back in that position.”
France’s Renaud Lavillenie, the pole vault world record-holder, had the best mark ever in the United States at 19 feet, 10 1/4.
Ayanleh Souleiman of Djibouti won the Bowerman Mile in 3:51.10, edging American Matthew Centrowitz (3:51.20) and Kenyan Asbel Kiprop (3:51.25).
Three-time 3,000 steeplechase world champion Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya won for the second time at Hayward Field in 8:01.71, just ahead of countryman Jairus Kipchoge Birech (8:01.83).
Allyson Felix showed her depth, moving up in distance to win the women’s 400 in 50.05. Fellow American and four-time Olympic champion Sanya Richards-Ross was second in 50.29.
Felix expects to run the 400 at the USA meet at Hayward next month. She also has four Olympic titles, including the 200 in 2012.
“I focused on the 200 for so long,” she said. “Just wanted to explore the 400 a little bit and see where I can go.”
Jamaica’s Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won the women’s 100 in 10.81, the same time as runner-up Murielle Ahoure of Ivory Coast.