OSAKA, Japan—James Carter has drawn Lane 6.
And that's good news for the former Mervo and Hampton University athlete as he heads into today's final of the 400-meter hurdles at the track and field world championships.
In the staggered start, four men will be on his inside, having to chase him down from lanes 2 to 5 at Nagai Stadium. And he'll have three others in his sights in lanes 7, 8 and 9.
So he'll be right in the middle of the field - a favorable spot, given the configuration of the track - as he bids for the first major global title in his eight-year career running on the professional track circuit.
"For sure, this can be the biggest race of my life," Carter, 29, said after running 48.30 seconds in the semifinals Sunday.
He already has been to two Olympics, running fourth at both the 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens Games. He took the silver medal at the 2005 world championships in Helsinki. And he has been crowned U.S. 400 hurdles champion three times, most recently with a 47.72 performance in Indianapolis that ranks him as the fastest 400 hurdler in the world this year.
But he has to do it today to solidify his spot as one of his event's great competitors, and put his name up there with the likes of Kevin Young (whose world record of 46.78 was set at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics) and the illustrious Edwin Moses (1976 and 1984 Olympic champion).
"I'm ready to run a PR [personal record]," said Carter, whose best time is the 47.43 he ran at the 2005 world championships. "I'm in that kind of shape. No injuries. No excuses. And no mistakes."
One other finalist has broken 48 seconds this year: U.S. teammate Kerron Clement, who ran a 47.80 on Carter's heels in Indianapolis.
But all the other starters have that potential - Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic, the 2004 Olympic champion and 2001-2003 worlds winner, finally shaking off the injuries that have hurt him for more than two years; Marek Plawgo of Poland, fastest of all semifinalists at 48.18; Danny McFarlane of Jamaica; U.S. teammate Derrick Williams; Canada's Adam Kunkel; and Greece's Periklis Iakovakis.
Berhawn Jackson's victory in Helsinki in 2005 restored the U.S. 400 hurdles prestige at the worlds. Derrick Adkins, worlds winner in 1995, had been the last American winner. Young (1993) and Moses (1983-1987) had done it earlier. This is the club Carter would like to join.
Not since Mel Sheppard's victory at the 1908 Olympic Games has an American runner won a 1,500-meter gold at the Olympics or the world championships.
Now, Alan Webb of Reston, Va., and Bernard Lagat, the ex-Kenyan who lives in Tucson, Ariz., have the chance to reverse those 99 years of U.S. frustration. Lagat won his 1,500 semifinal yesterday in 3:42.39, needing a 51.4 last lap to run down the field. Webb gave his fans major anxiety, waiting until the final strides to lock up his qualifying spot with a 52.4 last lap for a 3:41.08 time and fifth place.
They will run in a field of 14 in tomorrow's final.
USA Track and Field chief executive officer Craig Masback, himself a top 1,500-meter man two-plus decades ago, doesn't discount the chance of Lagat or Webb winning.
"Both of them have that ability," Masback said. "But at this level, you must realize that nobody in that race can be discounted."