Osaka, Japan -- Baltimore's James Carter owns the year's fastest time in the 400-meter hurdles, 47.72, which he ran to win the gold medal at the U.S. championships in Indianapolis on June 24.
But that carries no guarantee heading into the world championships at Nagai Stadium.
It will take a flawless performance, possibly the best of the 29-year-old international track veteran's life, to put him on the top rung of the victory platform after Tuesday's final.
A $60,000 check and a gold medal await the winner.
Carter's chances seem as good as any man's here. The former Mervo and Hampton University standout just can't afford any mistakes. One little glitch in his race could keep him away from the first major international title of his life.
"I'm healthy now [after an injury-slowed 2006 season]; I'm ready," he said after winning in Indianapolis. The problem is that other outstanding runners - three of whom happen to be U.S. teammates - and hurdlers from South Africa, Canada, Greece and the Dominican Republic will be ready, too.
Carter will line up in Lane 4 in the second of five qualifying heats tomorrow night. Twenty-four men advance to the semifinal Sunday. The top two in each semifinal, plus the next two fastest runners, qualify for the Tuesday final.
Experience may be a big edge for Carter. He took the silver medal at the 2005 world outdoor championships in Helsinki after placing fourth at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics.
But the American who finished ahead of him at the 2005 worlds, Bershawn Jackson, is back in the role of defending champion and comes in with a 2007 best of 48.13 which was achieved when he edged Carter in Osaka on May 5.
South Africa's L.J. Van Zyl and Canada's Adam Kunkel both have 48.24 bests this year, and Greece's Periklis Iakovakis ran a 48.35.
Always dangerous, too, is the Dominican Republic's Felix Sanchez, who won his nation's first Olympic track gold medal in 2004 but has battled injuries the past three years.
In addition to the U.S. championship, Carter has had big wins this year in Lausanne, Switzerland (48.30), New York (48.37) and Paris (48.61.) But he ran second in Osaka and had thirds in Athens (48.25), Rome (48.31) and Carson, Calif. (48.76.)
Carter's all-time best of 47.43 was achieved in 2005. He's the 12th-fastest runner in the history of 400-meter hurdling.
Vikas Gowda and Cleopatra Borel-Brown, a pair of former NCAA champions, are other athletes with Maryland ties competing at the world championships.
Gowda, from Frederick, was an NCAA discus champion for North Carolina. He is representing India at the worlds.
Borel-Brown, a graduate of UMBC, competes in the women's shot put for Trinidad.