USA: LaShawn Merritt
LaShawn Merritt celebrates winning the 4x400 meters relay at the 2011 World Championships.
Place of birth: Virginia, USA
Previous Olympics: 1
Previous medals: 2
For some athletes it is all about the glory. For some it is all about the money. But for LaShawn Merritt there have been greater motivations for more Olympic success at London 2012.
First came a desire for a place in the record books as only the second man, after countryman Michael Johnson, to win 400 metres gold in successive Games.
"I go out and train every day to leave a legacy," Merritt told USA Today in January.
Second came the wish to further honour the memory of his big brother, Antwan, who died in 1999 in a tragic incident while at college.
"I told him I was going to do it,'' Merritt revealed of his celebrations following his Olympic triumph at Beijing 2008 - where he also won gold in the 4x400m relay. "He got me through it and I'm dedicating this race to him.''
And last but not least came the need to prove his success is down to nothing but hard work and talent, expunging the memory of his embarrassing and now infamous positive drugs test when he hit the headlines in 2010 for using a 'male enhancement' product.
It was actually the death of his brother almost 13 years ago that first brought his talent to light.
According to court reports, an earlier scuffle spilled into Antwan Merritt's dorm room at Shaw University. Prosecutors said that he was attacked, put in a headlock and, apparently fearing for his life, leapt from his eighth-floor window. Three men were acquitted of manslaughter and charges against two others were dismissed.
LaShawn was 13 at the time and stopped playing baseball, the sport his brother always watched, and turned to track and field instead.
"When you lose someone that close to you, you need something to help heal," Brenda Stukes - Antwan and LaShawn's mother - said following the Beijing final. "Track was it for Shawn.''
It was a decision that paid dividends, as Merritt won numerous state and national titles before first achieving international fame with victory at the World Championships in 2007, and then adding Olympic gold in 2008 and defending his world title in Berlin two years later.
Just a few weeks after that Berlin triumph however, Merritt failed three drug tests for a steroid derivative called DHEA. Convinced it was a mistake, the American was urged to look at the ingredients of any new product he had been using and was horrified when he checked the packet of his 'ExtenZe' cream, which purports to enhance sexual performance.
A 21-month ban followed, meaning that Merritt could return in time to compete at the World Championships last year, where he won a silver medal. However, he was still banned from the Olympics.
The US Olympic Committee challenged that IOC ruling, claiming it amounted to punishing athletes twice for the same offence, and subsequently won the case at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
When that judgement finally came, it marked the end of a long and drawn-out court battle, and the reigniting of Merritt's Olympic dream. But he believes he has come through the whole episode stronger as a result.
"Overall, I'm a better person as far as not taking anything for granted," he told his official website following the CAS decision. "One day you can have something, and the next day it may be gone from a simple mistake."
Olympic Heroes at London 2012
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