EUGENE, Ore. — LaShawn Merritt might have won the race but the real victory Sunday in the men’s 400 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials belonged to Bryshon Nellum.
Nellum, a senior at Southern California, finished third in the event, behind Merritt and Tony McQuay, for a trip to the London Games — something that was unthinkable in 2008 when Nellum was shot in the legs while leaving a Halloween party.
A high-school track phenom, Nellum was told he might never run competitively again after the shooting. Now, three surgeries and nearly four years later, he’s an Olympian.
“I just put it all in God’s hands. It’s not my plan, it’s his plan,” Nellum said.
Nellum took a bullet to each thigh and another in the left hamstring during the shooting when he was just 19. Two gang members were sentenced last August to 15 years each in prison for the crime. Prosecutors said the men mistook the athlete for a rival gang member.
Just last year, Nellum underwent a third and surgery to remove the remaining bullet fragments in his left hamstring.
“It’s been a long journey for me,” he said. “I finally had a healthy season. It’s a blessing to be able to compete out here.”
Merritt, the reigning Olympic gold medalist, won the 400 in 44.12 seconds, the best in the world this season, for a chance to defend his title in London.
McQuay, a junior at Florida who won the NCAA championship in the 400 this month, was second in 44.49 at Hayward Field. Nellum surged down the stretch for third in 44.80.
“This won’t be my first rodeo. I will go in confidently, and I am definitely confident in Tony and Nellum that they can handle this,” Merritt said. “They came out of college and now they’re with the big dogs.”