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One-Lap Wonders: Here are Your 400 Meter Runners for Team USA

Talitha Diggs, Kendall Ellis, and Lynna Irby give rise to a new generation of 400-meter speed.

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Known as the long sprint, the 400 meter race is “an acid test of sprint endurance,” according to World Athletics. You have to be super fast for a full lap around the track. This year, the two top American women—Quanera Hayes and Allyson Felix—won’t be competing in the event, giving rise to three newcomers: Talitha Diggs, Kendall Ellis, and Lynna Irby. Learn more about them below.

Talitha Diggs

talitha-diggs-400m
(Photo: Getty Images)

Although she’s only 19 and a newcomer to the international track circuit, 400-meter specialist Talitha Diggs has been a standout performer for years and comes from a legacy of American track and field royalty. 

She’s the daughter of four-time U.S. Olympian Joetta Clark Diggs and niece of three-time Olympian Hazel Clark who won a combined 18 U.S. titles in the 800-meter run and made the finals of numerous global championships. But Diggs, who has already started to make a name for herself as a speedy teenager in the 400, might take the family name to new heights as soon as this summer.

Diggs just completed an enormously successful sophomore year at the University of Florida by not only winning the NCAA titles in the 400m indoor (50.98) and outdoor (49.99)—and helping the Gators win the indoor and outdoor team titles—but also taking home her first U.S. title (50.22) on June 25 at Hayward Field.

She had to come from behind to win the U.S. championship race over a stacked field of pros. Her explosive speed, that has brought her success in shorter sprint races earlier in her career, should put her into medal contention if she advances to the July 22 finals. 

“You rarely find somebody who is able to dig that deep in the final 20 meters of the race and reclaim the lead,” says NBC Sports broadcaster and 2012 Olympic 400m champion Sanya Richards-Ross. “That was impressive. That was lethal. Such poise for her.”

The youngest American to ever break 50 seconds, Diggs is ranked No. 4 in the world as of July 5, trailing Dominican Republic’s Marileidy Paulino (49.49), last year’s Olympic silver medalist; Jamaica’s Charokee Young (49.87), the NCAA runner-up from Texas A&M; and the Bahamas’ Shaunae Miller-Uibo (49.91), the 2016 and 2020 Olympic champion. 

Diggs has beaten Young several times during the collegiate season and seems to have considerable upside—not the least of which is her long experience in the sport and her family’s deep track and field background. 

“My family, they’ve been integral to my success,” Diggs says. “For me to see my mom and my aunt to win so many titles and for me to get my own, it’s just a blessing.”

Age: 19
400m PR: 49.99 (NCAA Outdoor Championships 2022)

Brian Metzler

Kendall Ellis

kendall-ellis-400m
(Photo: Getty Images)

Kendall Ellis was this year’s runner-up at the U.S. Championships in the 400m. She ran 50.35 to make it happen. This will be her third World Championships appearance and she’s determined to make it her best one yet. “I’m accomplished and have an extensive resumé but I’m not satisfied,” she says. “I’ve made teams consistently but haven’t brought home individual hardware yet and that’s what I want to do.” 

Everybody knows her for a famous race. USC would need to win the women’s 4×4 to win the team title at the NCAA Championships in 2018. Second place wouldn’t be enough. They fumbled the baton handing it to Ellis on the anchor leg. She was in fifth and probably 30 meters back of the leader. It all seemed to happen in the final 100 meters: Everybody else slowed down and Ellis powered forward. She passed Purdue’s anchor leg in the final meter of the race and fell across the line. She won. Her relay team won. Her entire track team won. Hayward Field went nuts. It was on SportsCenter the next day—one of those perfect sports moments that catapults track into the mainstream for just a moment. 

Ellis is also known for being the 400 leg of a World Record DMR team this April.

For now, she lives in Los Angeles and still trains with her coach from USC. She’s run professionally for New Balance for four years now. “Track used to be just based on results and accomplishments for me. Because that’s how shoe companies look at you. That’s how everybody looks at you in the sport,” she says. “Now it’s about being the best I can be, and enjoying it, getting everything out of the sport before my time in it ends.”

Getting everything out of the sport this year looks like a medal at the world stage. “I want to be on the podium,” she says, looking forward to Eugene in a few weeks.   

Age: 26
400m PR: 49.99 (2018)

Best Part of Training: “Getting to be around my training partners. We have a lot of conversations.”

Worst Part of Training: “The pain of a workout. I don’t like running over 350 meters.”

Best Advice Received: “Be present.”

Pre-Race Superstitions: “I don’t have any.”

Go-To Summer Jam: “Break My Soul” by Beyoncé

Matt Wisner

Lynna Irby

lynna-irby

Lynna Irby enters the World Athletics Championships in Eugene ranked No. 16 in the 400 meters (50.67), but she has a good chance to earn one of the eight spots in the July 22 finals. Although she’s still trying to rekindle the speed that led to her personal best 49.80 clocking and a No. 5 world ranking in 2018 at the age of 19, she ran a strong race at the U.S. championships on June 26 to nab third place and earn a spot on Team USA.

Growing up in Indianapolis, Irby was a teenage prodigy who set an all-time world record at the age of 12 running 54.57 before becoming the fastest American 400 high school runner in the last 20 years with a 51.39 effort. She earned 16 national titles from Junior Olympic and Youth National Championship meets and then brought home silver medals at junior world championships in 2015 and 2016. She ran collegiately for the University of Georgia but only had one solid season with the Bulldogs in 2018. However, if she continues the progress she’s made this season, the rejuvenated Irby should be among the top American 400 runners for years to come.

Age: 23
400m PR: 49.80

Brian Metzler