Aries Merritt en route to another 12.93 (Philippe Fitte) © Copyright
Athens Olympic champion and previous World record holder – check!
Reigning World champion – check!
World leader – check!
The competition for the men’s 110m Hurdles title in London will be "as fierce as ever". That is how World leader and US champion Aries Merritt, the athlete who incredibly clocked 12.93 in his last three races this summer, summed up what is likely to become one of the highlights of the Athletics events at the London Olympic Games.
The man in shape, Merritt has finally come of age after years of injury prevented him from attaining the levels most pundits expected him to reach following his World Junior title back in 2004. Since then Merritt failed to claim any medal at a global championship, since then he failed to break the magical 13-second barrier...
Forward to 2012 and meet the new Aries Merritt. Now 27 years old, Merritt seems to have found what it takes to move from being just a very good high hurdler to the "man to beat" at the London Olympic Games.
This winter already, he had planted the seeds for the superb season that was ahead of him when he snatched the World Indoor 60m Hurdles title in Istanbul just 5 hundredths of a second ahead of a certain Liu Xiang.
In fact, the Chinese hurdler seems to be the only man with the ability to challenge Merritt for the title in London and indeed Xiang is the last person who managed to defeat Merritt with their last head-to-head at the Prefontaine Meeting in Eugene back in early June resulting in a windy 12.87 win for Xiang.
The expected showdown at the London Samsung Diamond League meeting just over a fortnight ago didn’t materialize as Xiang withdrew from the final with a sore back. As we know, Merritt went on to win that race with his second 12.93 of the year before stopping the clock at the exact same time a week later at the Herculis meeting in Monaco.
Most certainly, Xiang will have treated his back injury and will be ready to tackle the challenge ahead come the opening round of the 110m Hurdles in London. It will be a very emotional moment for the man who became the first Asian Male athlete to win an Olympic gold back in Athens 2004, after the dramatic exit he had to take in front of over 80,000 ecstatic Chinese fans at the Beijing Olympic Games four years ago.
But he too will be a new man in London having fully recovered from his injuries and bringing in his resumé a couple of World Championships silver medals from Istanbul this winter and Daegu last summer.
The man with the biggest question mark this time around will be defending champion Dayron Robles who has struggled with his fitness this year and has only competed 3 times this summer and losing out twice.
The 25-year-old Beijing Olympic champion who was disqualified after winning the race at the Daegu World Championships last summer is said to be confident in his ability to defend his title but we are eager to see him back in action to prove him right.
Jason Richardson, the "fourth man" in Daegu who went on to win the World Championships gold medal, has improved to 12.98 to clinch second at the US Olympic Trials and although he is the reigning World champion he will not start as the favourite for the Olympic title. Something the 26-year-old Californian may start to like should he manage to upstage his rivals in similar fashion to last year.
The third American in the field, Jeff Porter (13.08) and Cuba’s Orlando Ortega (13.09) should also be in the mix with Russia’s Sergey Shubenkov, the European champion from Helsinki, also featuring prominently among the potential finalists.
Laura Arcoleo for the IAAF