LaShawn Merritt

LaShawn Merritt crushes Kirani James for world title in 400 meters (video)

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LaShawn Merritt turned one of the most anticipated head-to-head showdowns at the World Championships into a rout.

The American blasted past reigning world and Olympic champion Kirani James of Grenada in the 400-meter final Tuesday, winning in 43.74 seconds. The two were expected to battle closely for gold, but James was behind after 300 meters and appeared to tighten up on the final straightaway, never challenging.

“I put the pedal to the metal,” Merritt, who watched some of his previous races in preparation Monday night, told Universal Sports. “I knew it was going to take a 43-second race, and that’s what I was ready for mentally and physically. I told my coach, ‘We’re going to have to run a little bit tonight.'”

American Tony McQuay took silver in 44.40, one of six runners to beat the fading James (44.99). Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic earned bronze in 44.52 to follow up his Olympic silver medal.

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Merritt, 27 and the 2008 Olympic champion, set a personal best by .01 of a second and became the third man to win multiple world titles in the event, joining fellow Americans Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner. He failed to advance out of the heats at the London Olympics, beset by injury.

“I wanted to come back on this big stage, this world stage and put a great race together,” said Merritt, who mouthed “I’m back” to cameras after winning. “That’s what I did.”

James, 20, was more than one second slower than his fastest time of this season and his Olympic-winning time.

“I just died,” James told Universal Sports. “That doesn’t usually happen. I’m not quite sure what happened.”

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Mikaela Shiffrin wrestles with doubt in seconds before World Cup downhill debut

Mikaela Shiffrin, of the United States, skis during the third training run for the World Cup women's downhill ski race in Lake Louise, Alberta, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)
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After a momentary panic in the start house, Mikaela Shiffrin raced to a tie for 18th in the first downhill of her World Cup career in Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday.

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom champion who has also won a World Cup giant slalom, has been slowly adding the speed events of super-G and downhill to her repertoire the last two seasons.

“It wasn’t bad,” Shiffrin said, according to SkiRacing.com. “I certainly didn’t risk anything crazy.”

Her result Friday, 1.99 seconds behind Slovenian winner Ilka Stuhec, came after Shiffrin was 18th, 24th and 30th fastest in downhill training runs the previous three days. Shiffrin also had to wait several minutes in the start house as the racer before her crashed (video here).

“That was just a bummer,” Shiffrin said, according to the Denver Post. “I was like, ‘Just don’t let it affect you,’ but being up there for 10 minutes, like, ‘What happened? What’s taking them so long? What’s going on? Is she hurt?’

“Then I started doubting myself, like my technique going off the jumps, which is actually pretty good. I was going back and forth between, ‘Should I even be doing this? Maybe I just should pull out because I don’t want to kill myself.’ Then I’m like, ‘You’re absolutely fine, you haven’t felt sketched out a single time on this track in the past three days, so stick with that. You don’t have to go crazy.'”

“To be fast in speed there certainly needs to be a certain level of risk, and I know that, but now, if [giant slalom] and slalom are my main priority this season, I don’t need to be going crazy in a downhill with flat light and after I got iced [waiting so long],” Shiffrin said, according to SkiRacing.com.

Stuhec won Friday’s race by .22 of a second over Italian Sofia Goggia. Swede Kajsa Kling was third.

A race replay can be seen here. Full results are here.

Lindsey Vonn, owner of a record 18 wins at Lake Louise, is missing the annual World Cup stop in Alberta due to a broken arm from a November crash. Vonn had raced at Lake Louise each of the previous 15 seasons.

Last season, Shiffrin made her World Cup debut in the super-G at Lake Louise and finished 15th.

The women have another downhill Saturday and a super-G on Sunday in Lake Louise, both streaming live on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app (schedule here).

MORE: Vonn eyes January return from her most painful injury

High-speed crash at World Cup downhill in Lake Louise (video)

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Swiss Joana Haehlen crashed into netting at high speed during a World Cup downhill at Lake Louise, Alberta, on Friday.

Haehlen, 24, lost her right ski after landing from a jump and sped uncontrollably off course. She braced for impact, slammed into red netting and was turned around before landing with neither of her skis still attached.

She lay on the snow while being attended to and eventually skied down the mountain on her own.

It caused a 10-minute delay before the next skier, American Mikaela Shiffrin, could take her run.

VIDEO: Vonn details the most painful injury of her career