HELSINKI, Finland – Kerron Clement had run so well in the 400-meter hurdles final six weeks ago at the U.S. championships that few disagreed with his description of the race as “perfect.”

Clement was the first in a decade to master the stride pattern, 13 steps between hurdles, that Edwin Moses used to revolutionize the event 30 years ago and become the greatest intermediate hurdler ever. Clement also had run the world’s fastest 400 hurdles in seven years and, despite his age and inexperience, was a solid favorite for the world title.

“I don’t think experience is what makes you win,” said Allen Johnson, high-hurdles gold medalist in his world meet debut 10 years ago. “When you are prepared to run, you win.”

Johnson, now a four-time world champion, simply may have been an exception. But he was 24 at his first outdoor worlds.

Clement is only 19, and he ran all three races here like a kid lost amid the distractions of an Olympic or world meet, particularly one outside the U.S. – the being cooped up in holding rooms before races, the big crowds, the time-zone and food changes.

And then there was Tuesday’s weather, wild thunderstorms that stopped the fourth day of the World Track and Field Championships for two hours and delayed the hurdles final by 25 minutes. After a dry hour, it began to rain again, then harder and harder as the hurdlers stood by their blocks for the start.

“A veteran-type athlete might have handled it differently,” said USA Track and Field official Sandra Farmer-Patrick, 1992 Olympic silver medalist in the event. “Fourth place for an average person is not bad. For an exceptional talent like that, we all expected more.”

It was too much for Clement to process – so much, in fact, that his mind went blank long enough to cost him a medal and the United States an unprecedented world meet sweep of the event as teammates Bershawn Jackson and James Carter won the gold and silver with personal-best times of 47.30 and 47.43 seconds, respectively.

Reigning Olympic and world champion Felix Sanchez of the Dominican Republic collapsed to the track clutching his right leg hamstring after clearing one hurdle.

Clement, who clocked 48.18 as compared to 47.24 at the U.S. championships, was completely out of sync throughout the meet. He frequently had to chop his strides and take several baby steps before hurdling one of the 10 barriers. Baby steps, in fact, could describe his experience in a meet he entered with the two fastest times of 2005.

“I’m happy just to be here,” Clement said. “Fourth place is pretty good for me.”

When the race was over, Clement knew he could have been third had he not eased up 5 meters from the finish and neglected to lean at the line. He was 8/100ths of a second, a couple of eyelashes, behind bronze medalist Dai Tamesue of Japan.

“If I had leaned, I probably would have gotten third,” Clement said. “I guess I wasn’t thinking.”

Clement said the same about the semifinal. Then too he eased up, forgetting that finishing first would have guaranteed he would not get Lane 1 for the final. The inside lane is difficult for anyone in the 400 hurdles and even tougher for a runner as tall as the 6-foot-2-inch Clement, of LaPorte, Texas.

“It was raining, and Lane 1 didn’t help,” Clement said.

Sure, Angelo Taylor won the 2000 Olympic gold from Lane 1, and he also is 6-2. But Taylor was 21 at the time, with four years of college and a world meet appearance behind him.

“It is a learning experience for me,” Clement said. “Next time I’ll know what to do.”

Jackson, 22, of Miami, had a similar experience at the 2004 Olympic trials, when he seemed sure to make the team but was distracted by talk over whether he should turn pro after his sophomore year in college.

He lost his concentration with one hurdle left in the trials final, which he approached fighting for the lead but forgetting that a 5-8 hurdler must pay constant attention to the trail leg. He smacked the hurdle, stumbled and was beaten for the final Olympic spot by 6/100ths of a second.

“I can’t take too many losses,” Jackson said. “I said it would never happen again.”

Jackson has lost just once this season and has run under 48 seconds in seven straight meets. Only three other people have broken 48 this season, none more than three times.

So it was no wonder Jackson echoed the old Postal Service menu when he talked about weather that led meet officials to postpone three events, including the women’s discus final and men’s 200 quarterfinals, until Wednesday or Thursday.

“I can’t wait no more years to show my talent,” Jackson said. “I wasn’t going to let nothing stop me-no rain, no snow, no lightning.”

That shouldn’t stop a guy who has been nicknamed “Batman” since middle school, even if a superhero wasn’t what the other kids had in mind.

“They said I got ears, and I fly over the hurdles,” Jackson said.

That description is perfect too.

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