TRACK: Relays Feature World Record Holder Clement

Snag the Gatorade Carl Lewis. Fetch a towel Michael Johnson. There's a new fastest man in the world, and if you blinked, you might have missed the fact that he hangs his shoes up in Gainesville, Florida.

Just 13 days ago University of Florida sophomore Kerron Clement broke the 400-meter dash world record while competing in the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Fayetteville, Arkanasas. Although the Gators finished second as a team, Clement's record has brought national acclaim for him and for the university. His 44.57 broke Johnson's former world record by .06 seconds.

"I can't describe how I feel," Clement said. "When I crossed the line I wanted to cry. That was my first reaction. It was so overwhelming --- breaking Michael Johnson's record. I guess it's mine now."

For Florida Coach Mike Holloway, Kerron's accomplishment wasn't expected at this particular meet, but Holloway has felt Clement had it in him to be a world record holder in the event.

"Kerron just does a phenomenal job in the weight room by taking care of himself and we put together a good race plan," Holloway said. "I just asked Kerron not to panic, but the big key was to get out in front so he wouldn't get trapped."


Florida's Kerron Clement, left, and Louisiana State's Kelly Willie round a curve in the 400 meter run during the NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, March 12, 2005. Clement won the event in world record time at 44.57 seconds. Willie finished third with a time of 45.41 seconds. (AP Photo/April L. Brown)

Clement, who is scheduled to race next at the Florida Relays on this weekend at Percy Beard Track, is primarily a 400-meter hurdler. He won't be competing in the 400-meter dash till the SEC Championships in May.

Michael Johnson was one of those athletes who commanded the world's attention for a number of years. For quite some time, he was unbeatable and the only real competition Johnson had was Michael Johnson. He was usually the only threat to break the world 400 record, which he, incidentally, held.

"It's really amazing because Michael Johnson is a great athlete and he has held the record for such a long time," Clement said. "I'm just thrilled to have this record."

While hurdling is his primary event, Clement got the feeling that he could make a push for the record after the beginning of the NCAA meet when he cracked 45 seconds in a preliminary heat. However, when he lined up in the blocks for the same race in which he broke the record, he wasn't so confident.

"I was just hoping to run under the 45 seconds that I set earlier and the world record was never on my mind," Clement said. "I went out there and gave it 100 percent."

Clement was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, but he gave up his citizenship there and is now an American citizen whose home town is La Porte, Texas. He was the 2002 Nike Athlete of the Year and 2003 Gatorade High School Track and Field Athlete of the Year for the state of Texas but when it came time to make his college choice, he decided to head east for Florida.

"Florida is a real good school academically and athletically and I wanted to train here," Clement said. "Coach Holloway is a real good coach who has coached Olympians and I wanted to be part of that."

Holloway has been an instrumental part of the maturation process for Clement, but is quick to point out that the hurdles is where he intends to implement Kerron to succeed even more in the future as opposed to the 400-meter dash.

"The 400 hurdles is Kerron's craft and it's what he does; that would be like me asking you, a sports reporter, to cover nature," Holloway said.

Clement's speed has given way to a very rare opportunity for track and field athletes in the United States as his plans will entail for him to go pro quite soon.

"The plan right now is that I'll be out in June after NCAA's," Clement said.

With the entire outdoor track and field season still on tap, Holloway, Clement and the Gators will be doing their best to capture the SEC crown. UF has been the early proving ground for track greats like John Capel and Dennis Mitchell. By breaking the world record, Clement is already one of Florida's all-time greats. With the outdoor season remaining, he has a chance to become perhaps the greatest runner in Florida track history.


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