HELSINKI, Finland - Relax. Stay cool. Focus. Be strong.
James Carter will tell himself all these things. Over and over and over. And over and over and over again. Now until 9:25 p.m. tomorrow.
And then, with all his body forces in alignment, he'll step out onto the track at historic Olympic Stadium, site of the 1952 Games, fully armed for a run at the first major Games medal - maybe even a gold one - of his storied track and field career.
The 27-year-old Mervo and Hampton University product and two-time U.S. Olympian heads into the men's 400-meter hurdles final at the 10th world championships with everything going for him.
He overpowered the field in his semifinal race yesterday, blazing past three men - one of them reigning Olympic champion Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic - over the 10th and final 3-foot barrier and cruising home to victory in 47.78 seconds. That time stood up as fastest of the three semifinal races.
Sanchez, the Southern Cal graduate who also claimed world championship titles at Edmonton in 2001 and Paris in 2003, struggled home third and qualified for the eight-man final only as one of the fastest losers in 48.24. Ahead of Sanchez, too, was Texas Christian alumnus Bayano Kamani, running for Panama, at 47.84.
Two other Americans reached the final - ex-St. Augustine's College star Bershawn Jackson in 48.19 and former University of Florida runner Kerron Clement in 48.49.
South Africa's L.J. van Zyl (48.16), Japan's Dai Tamesue (48.46) and France's Naman Keita (48.60) will round out the field.
"I don't want a repeat of Athens," Carter said. He'd led the 2004 Olympic final through the ninth hurdle, only to weaken and fade to fourth.
He doesn't want a repeat of the 2000 Sydney Games, either - he was fourth there, too. Or the 2001 worlds, where he lost out in the semis.
"Today, I got out pretty good over the first two, three hurdles, just trying to get my rhythm and speed down, relax and stay technical[ly sound]," he said.
"Then, just keeping it there and making sure I crossed the line before everybody else.
"Felix [Sanchez]? I wasn't even paying him any mind. I was just trying to run my own race.
"I finished strong and that was the best thing. I am totally focused now. I'm in good shape. There are no injuries and I'm ready to win. So let's see what happens."