Feature London, UK

Merritt is shaving closer to Olympic glory and the World record – Samsung Diamond League

Aries Merritt hurdling at London's Crystal Palace (Mark Shearman)Aries Merritt hurdling at London's Crystal Palace (Mark Shearman) © Copyright
"Pretty darn good" was how Aries Merritt described his performance at the Aviva London Grand Prix - Samsung Diamond League on Friday night (13) when he comprehensively beat the world champion, Jason Richardson, and matched his own world season lead on a cool, damp night in the British capital.

Merritt’s time of 12.93 puts him alongside Renaldo Nehemiah at eighth on the world all-time list, just 0.06s short of Dayron Robles’ World record, a mark now firmly in his sights, along with the Olympic title for which he will be clear favourite.

"Hopefully I can shave my time even lower for the Games, if the conditions are good," said the bouyant Merritt afterwards.

"Hopefully, I can shave off 0.05, and maybe even get the World record, who knows?"

"You’re never going to know when you [can] run a world record because the competition and conditions play a huge factor."

"You just have to stay consistent and keep tracking."

Merritt’s been "tracking" well so far this season. In fact, it’s been a pretty darn good year for the 26-year-old American who is finally making his mark on the senior circuit after a brilliant US college and junior career that included a World junior title in 2004 and victory at the 2006 NCAA championships.

He skipped his final year at the University of Tennessee to turn professional, but endured a stuttering start to life in the seniors.

It wasn’t until 2009 that Merritt made a US championships team, but he did not get past the heats at the Berlin World Championships. In 2010 he went out in the heats of the US championships and finished the year with a season’s best of just 13.61.

But he returned to shape in 2011, coming equal fifth at the Daegu World Championships last summer – virtually unnoticed in the wake of all the Liu Xiang-Dayron Robles DQ drama – and has burst into brilliant form in this Olympic year.

Indoors, he clocked personal bests at 50, 55 and 60m Hurdles, won the US title in 7.43 and ran just 0.01s slower to take gold at the World Indoor Championships in Istanbul.

He started his outdoor season on 21 April and has since won 10 of 13 races overall, including the US Trials final in Eugene on 30 June when he shot to the top of the world rankings and lowered his PB dramatically to join a select group of 14 hurdlers who have dipped under 13 seconds.

While that was impressive, his performance in London, though equal on the clock, must merit even higher on his personal scale given the damp track and chill wind at Crystal Palace.

The race was set up as a clash with Liu Xiang, the former World and Olympic champion who is currently world number two, to establish bragging rights ahead of the London Games. The head-to-head didn’t happen because Liu Xiang withdrew with a back strain sustained when winning his rainy semi-final, and Merritt led an American sweep of the top three positions, powering clear of Richardson, who was second in 13.06 with Ryan Wilson third in 13.18.

"This meet gives me confidence coming into the Games because it shows that I can run in any conditions – rain, cold. I can run in it and I can run fast," said Merritt.

Given the state of this British summer, he may well have to when the Olympic final comes around in three and a bit weeks’ time. But Merritt isn’t satisfied yet, and his message to Liu Xiang was 'there’s more to come’.

"This will be great preparation for the Olympics if the weather is like this," he said.

"It was still not my best because I still don’t feel right from coming off the plane, but it was pretty darn good and I’m pretty excited with the result."

"I got here just two days ago so I am a little under the weather as far as my sleeping patterns are concerned. So it’s amazing that I am running this well, I can’t be more excited.

"I have to do it when it counts, though – this means nothing if I can’t do it at the Olympics."

Now, that would be pretty darn good.

Matthew Brown for the IAAF