SAM Baird will race his sporting idol – dual Olympic gold medallist and reigning world 400-metre champion LaShawn Merritt.
Confirmation came this week that Baird had been accepted to race in next week’s Perth Track Classic.
There is one 400m event, penned as the event finale, and that means the Ballarat teenager is guaranteed to line up against the imposing American in what Baird says will be one “very, very insane race”.
“I’m very privileged to have the chance to come up against the world champion in my discipline. I look up to LaShawn – he’s my idol,” Baird said.
“I’m not sure it’s a showdown, because he is so much faster, but it’s more about the experience for me.
“This will be the first time I meet him. I’ll sit in the call room, waiting to race, with the world champion and Olympian.
“I’m definitely nervous ... it’s a really good step in my running career.
“Hopefully this will not be the last time I race him either.”
The remaining 400m field in Perth is likely to comprise Australian 4x400m runners from last year’s Moscow world championships and a West Australian invitee.
Baird said that alone was an amazing prospect and honour, as a junior, to race such calibre, let alone Merritt – and on Perth’s brand new blue track.
The invitation continues an outstanding summer for the Ballarat Grammar year 12 student.
Baird won the prestigious Devonport Gift 400m after Christmas before he clocked a IAAF World Junior Championship qualifying time (46.78 seconds) in Melbourne on February 1 to race in the US in July.
He prepares to defend his Australian under-18 400m crown next month – a title that helped to catapult him into the IAAF World Youth Championships
A slight hamstring twinge forced Baird to withdraw from the Ballarat Gift 120m semi-finals on Sunday – with the stewards’ approval – as a precaution.
Baird has a massive summer still to play out – starting with the Victorian junior track and field championships this weekend.
Then to Perth to face his ‘American idol’. Meanwhile, Ballarat Olympian Kathryn Mitchell will take on a world-class field in javelin in Perth, including Yuki Ebihara and Australian world championship silver medallist Kim Mickle.