It was a long-awaited matchup, their 400-meter showdown in the Baltimore City championships in mid-May. And neither Damean Johnson of Carver nor Mervo's James Carter disappointed.
The longtime friends set a sizzling pace in the race, each crossing the line in an area-best 47.9 seconds. Johnson, who had caught Carter on the final turn, was declared the winner, leaning his head over before Carter could do the same.
"It was a great race, but we haven't talked about it much," said Carter, who has known Johnson for four years. "We're teammates now, and we'll basically be competing in the same event  all summer."
As members of the Ed Waters Track Club, a team of the area's best, Johnson and Carter have alternated as anchors on the 1,600 relay squad in the 17-18 age group.
Carter, 4A state champ in the 400 (also in 47.9), anchored Mervo's state title-winning 1,600 squad. Johnson (3A state runner-up in the 400) did the same to help Carver win the 3A state 1,600 relay crown.
"You can put either one of us back there, and I feel we're still a winning team, a national championship team," said Carter, the state triple-jump champ with 48 feet, 9 inches last spring. "Plus I'm glad to have him, because I've been the 1,600 anchor for the past two summers, and I hate the pressure."
But with Carter, the All-Metro Performer of the Year, in the back, Anthony Okoye (Poly) as the leadoff, Johnson running second, and All-Metro Garfield Thompson (Mervo) third, the contingent has clocked its fastest time (3:15.7) -- far off the national record (3:07.1).
Carter and Thompson know something about winning national championships, having been members of last summer's 3,200 relay champion in the 15-16 age group.
They'll compete next weekend at Poly, as Ed Waters plays host to the Mid-Atlantic AAU Regionals, an event that is expected to draw more than 2,500 athletes from Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Washington and Virginia.
"Thompson, Johnson and Carter are all running 48s and 47s, so we think that they can eventually go 3:12 or better as a team," said Ed Waters coach Freddie Hendricks, who coached Mervo to the 4A state title this past spring.
Johnson has run the fastest split time (47.1) this summer, but Carter (47.7) ran a faster split at Mervo in the spring.
Okoye has been a pleasant addition, said Hendricks. You won't find Okoye listed among the area's best times of last spring, when he spent most of the year pushing teammate Lloyd Vennie, "but believe me, he can roll," Hendricks said.
"Anthony's fastest split is 49.5, but I see him going much faster as the season progresses," said Hendricks, coach of the 15-16 and 17-18 age groups.
"We've watched him all year, and he's a steady performer. He adds stability to the team."
Thompson, though only a junior, brings plenty of experience to the third leg, having also been a member of Mervo's 4A state title winning 1,600-meter relay squad.
Thompson specialized in the 800 during the spring, earning All-Metro honors in that event. He won city and regional crowns before finishing second in the 4A state meet with an area-best clocking of 1:55.77.
"We've got a good leadoff with Anthony, who brings us in strong. But if we're behind, you've got Damean who will make up the difference. He's a real go-getter," Hendricks said. "Thompson's just as fierce a competitor who will also go after people. And anchoring is James Carter, who can catch you or hold you off."
Said coach Ron Neal, "It's neck-and-neck between those two. I actually expect that team to go around 3:09, because they really haven't been pushed yet."