RIO DE JANEIRO — American LaShawn Merritt won the bronze in the 400-meter here Sunday.

America should cheer for this, cheer for him. Not simply because an American won bronze. Americans are so jaded by piles of gold medals, bronzes hardly register anymore. They should. Merritt ran a blistering 43.85 seconds. The winner, Wayde Van Niekerk of South Africa, just happened to break the world record with a more blistering 43.03. No shame in that.


“[Van Niekerk] gave the effort today, he wanted it and he got it,” said Merritt, who will compete in the 200-meter and the 4×400 relay. “World-record race. I’ll take it. Going home with my first medal, got two more to get.”

Anyway, the race isn’t the only reason. And it’s also not merely because Merritt is a likable, big-personality guy.

And it’s not solely because he preaches the benefits or self-reliance. Or that he doesn’t really want young people to dream for and work toward unlikely athletic success (claiming that anything is possible if you set your mind to it is trite. Set your mind to it all you want, you aren’t running faster than Usain Bolt).

Merritt would rather kids focus on more reasonable and tangible pursuits such as education and business ownership. (The 30-year-old has used his track earnings to purchase a long haul trucking company and a daycare near his hometown of Portsmouth, Virginia.)

But that isn’t all of it either.

America should definitely not celebrate LaShawn Merritt as a redemption story – he won gold in 400 and 4×400 relay in 2008, was suspended for 21 months for having a banned substance in his system, returned, got injured during preliminary heats at the 2012 Olympics and now is a medalist again.

Plenty of people would be rightfully challenged to root for someone caught by doping control, but that’s the thing with Merritt: It’s the getting busted (and how he explained it away to a no nonsense arbitration panel) that makes him an American hero.

Or put it this way, who could be against someone who might rightfully be declared, shall we say, a considerate boyfriend?

You don’t like considerate boyfriends?

Here’s the situation, as gleaned from interviews with Merritt and his United States Anti-Doping arbitral award report. Merritt won two gold medals at the 2008 Games when he was just 22. In September of 2009, he finished the professional track season and decided to take a break from training.

One night in the middle of October, he was at a nightclub with “a lady friend,” as the arbitration report put it. He had a pretty good idea where the evening was headed and thought back to some television commercials he’d seen for a product called ExtenZe. It’s a male enhancement product that works like this: If you normally can, shall we say, maintain top speed for 400 meters, it will allow you to do it for 500 meters.

Or something like that. Except it has nothing to do with track.[/restrict]