By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Kerron Clement’s run in the mixed 400 meters relay at the Nitro Series would be unlikely to make his career highlights reel but he was glad to take a modest step towards London where he will bid for an unprecedented third hurdles world title.
The Olympic 400m hurdles champion came to Melbourne as a member of Usain Bolt’s ‘All-stars’ for the inaugural team-based event at Lakeside Stadium, a glitzy, brash and ultimately low-pressure affair for many of the athletes.
Clement’s relay team, boasting only one other 400m specialist in Jamaican Christine Day, was always up against it and the American crossed the line 19 seconds after Christine Ohuruogu’s England won the mixed relay during the second installment of the three-meeting series on Thursday.
Like many of the participating athletes, Trinidad-born Clement is some distance from reaching peak form and a trip Down Under was an unusual starting point for his season.
But the invitation from eight-times gold medalist Bolt was too hard to resist and 31-year-old Clement was curious about the unorthodox mix of sport and entertainment the event promised.
“Today was fun. I love my team, we finished last but it’s just great to be here,” Clement told Reuters trackside as a troupe of dancers stomped on a nearby stage to electronic music.
“It’s a privilege. Any time Bolt gets attached to anything, you need to give it your best shot.
“I honestly love (the atmosphere). It’s new to track and field and it’s great to be a part of it.
“Hopefully other people take notice and do the same thing. Track and field needs to be fun for athletes because we don’t need more stress.”
Clement is enjoying a second flowering of his career, having captured a 400m relay gold and 400m hurdles silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics before a litany of injury problems set in.
He came close to hanging up his spikes during a lean period in 2013 as he struggled to reach peak form after undergoing hernia surgery and missed out on a medal at the London Games.
He took a break in 2014 and a holiday in the Caribbean with friends to freshen the mind before coming back in 2015 with renewed determination.
It culminated in a brilliant race in the 400m hurdles final in Rio where he dipped toward the line to edge Kenya’s Boniface Mucheru Tumuti by 0.05 of a second.
The win was gratifying for an athlete whose appearance in a music video for American singer Beyonce generated more buzz than his achievements on the track in the few preceding years.
Back in his first halcyon period, Clement won back-to-back 400m hurdles titles at Osaka in 2007 and Berlin two years later, joining fellow American Edwin Moses (1983, 1987) and Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic (2001, 2003) as the only men to win the event twice at the world championships.
“I’m really psyched for the world championships, that’s my main focus for the season,” said Clement, who also owns two world gold medals in the 400m relay.
“Getting that third world title would be amazing. I’ll be chasing history. I’m already on the team but I just have to peak at the right time and pick my races very smartly.
“It should be a fun season.”