Post Olympics, Gold medalist Lashawn Merritt to challenge NFL’s fastest?

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by Chris LaMonica
April 11, 2012

Set to make his 2012 Outdoors debut on Saturday, April 28th at the Penn Relays in route to the U.S. Olympic trials in June, with hopes of the season ultimately culminating with his second 400-meter Olympic Gold Medal at the Games of the XXX Olympiad in London this summer, Lashawn Merritt’s post-London race schedule may grow by one.

“I’m definitely down for the challenge; it will bring some light to the sport,” expressed Merritt adding, “the football players always think they can beat the track players, and then you have the track athletes who think they can beat the football guys.”

Not since the Superstar program, popular from the early ‘80s to early ‘90s, barring a 2009 single season revival, have we seen elite athletes from different sports pitted against one another in head-to-head competition.  Merritt recently revealed in 2008 then Washington Redskins defensive back DeAngelo Hall, winner of the NFL’s Fastest Man at 2006 Pro Bowl, had issued a $100,000 race challenge.  “We were at his agent’s pool party, I just came off my Olympic Gold, he was one of the fastest people in the league at the time, and from athlete to athlete it was a challenge,” explained Merritt.

During his twenty-one month suspension from his sport, Merritt admits he gave the NFL some consideration and sought the counsel of his former East Carolina classmate Tennessee Titans Running back Chris Johnson, who himself has tweeted desires to race Jamaica’s Usain Bolt.  “I talked to Chris a couple of times … and he definitely told me ‘you have the speed, you have the body, you might as well go for it’,” said Merritt.  But for now Merritt “is still doing what [he] loves to do” and is focused on defending his 400-meter Olympic Gold Medal and in the process becoming only the second man in history after Michael Johnson to repeat as Olympic 400-meter Champion.

In seeking to do what U.S. Olympic great Michael Johnson or any athlete for that matter has not yet done, Merritt aims to become the first person to run times of 43 seconds, 19 seconds and sub-10 seconds in the 400m, 200m and 100m events respectively.  Hence, it is quite possible that Merritt will find ‘merit’ in running this proposed NFL vs. Track race as its training would coincide with his lofty career aspiration.  “I’m down for it.  I’ll definitely get some training in for it and focus on just getting out and being explosive,” said Merritt who believes “it could potentially be a great charity event.”

The two athletic worlds of football and track & field boast a rich cross section of dually talented competitors that include the likes of “Bullet” Bob Hayes, Willie Gault, James Jett, and James Trapp.  Unfortunately, the seasonal schedules of both sports are not exceedingly conducive to allowing the cross section of potential participants for the race to occur.  With the Olympics concluding on August 12th and the pounding of a 17-week or longer NFL season not reaching its conclusion until January or February of the following year, there exists only a miniscule window from March to early April for the race to even be considered.

And should the parties prove to be agreeable to time, date and location, there still remains the deal-blocking detail of the mutually decided distance.  “I train to do this, I would want it to be a little bit longer, maybe not a 40 or a 60, maybe a 100,” said Merritt, aware of Houston Texans Jacoby Jones Men’s Super 60-meter victory at the 2011 Millrose games adding, “I think it will be fun.”

Photo courtesy of U.S.O.C. / NBC
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