Olympic champion Kirani James broke Michael Johnson‘s Drake Relays 400m record on Friday night, beating rival World champion LaShawn Merritt handily in their first head-to-head race this season.
James, of Grenada, clocked 44.22 seconds in Des Moines, Iowa, topping Johnson’s mark of 44.41 from 1996. Only two men — Johnson and 2004 Olympic champion Jeremy Wariner — have ever run faster this early in a year, according to the IAAF.
“It just shows that I am in great shape,” James told Lewis Johnson on Universal Sports. “Good things can happen this season, but nothing is guaranteed. It’s still early.”
Merritt, who succeeded James as World champion in 2013, was a disappointing fifth in 45.27.
Merritt, the 2008 Olympic 400m champion, has not placed lower than second in any top-level international 400m race that he has finished since 2006.
“Today wasn’t about the time,” Merritt told Lewis Johnson on Universal Sports. “Coach said go out and work on some things. … I didn’t do so well as far as place-wise, but I feel good.”
In 2014, James clocked a world-leading 43.74 with Merritt ranking second at 43.92. They’re the only two men to run sub-44 seconds since 2008.
In the 110m hurdles, U.S. indoor 60m hurdles champion Aleec Harris clocked 13.16 to beat a field that included World champion David Oliver (second, 13.19), Olympic champion and world record holder Aries Merritt (fourth, 13.37) and Olympic decathlon champion and world record holder Ashton Eaton (seventh, 13.43).
Harris’ time marked the fastest in the world this year, according to the IAAF, but it’s early and will likely take sub-13 to win the World Championship in Beijing in August.
In the men’s 400m hurdles, Bershawn Jackson topped Olympic and World silver medalist Michael Tinsley, 48.87 to 49.39.
Jackson, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, failed to make the 2012 Olympic team. He was the third-fastest American last year, behind Tinsley and Eaton. Eaton is no longer running the 400m hurdles, switching back to the decathlon.
In the women’s 800m, Ajee’ Wilson, 20, prevailed in 2:00:03 over World bronze medalist Brenda Martinez. Wilson, the 2012 World junior champion, had the fastest time in the world last year (1:57.67).