Omar McLeod continued his 2016 winning streak at the IAAF Diamond League meeting in Doha on Friday, taking his unbeaten run this year to 10 victories across all events and disciplines, including heats.
His last defeat actually came in his last race of 2015, the IAAF World Championships Beijing 2015 110m hurdles final, when he finished sixth.
His eye-catching series of wins this year have included taking the world indoor 60m hurdles title in a Jamaican record and world lead of 7.41, and a 9.99 100m win on his home track in Fayetteville last month. The latter grabbed the attention of athletics aficionados as it made him the first athlete ever to have run faster than 10 seconds for the 100m and 13 seconds for the 110m hurdles.
In Doha, he reduced his world-leading time to 13.05, having run 13.08 at the Drake Relays on 30 April, despite what he admitted was a slightly scrappy race en route to the second-fastest time of his career.
“It was a great race but not perfect, I hit a lot of hurdles,” said McLeod, who only turned just 22 less than a month ago. "My knees are bruised right now. I hit about three, including the ninth, so in the end I was just glad to finish the race well.
“I’m going to be looking at the race on the internet before I run in Shanghai and look at what I need to improve on. There’s always something to improve on and I’ll work on those aspects but it was a huge confidence boost to beat a very classy field.”
He will face the five men who finished immediately behind him in Doha at the next stop on the IAAF Diamond League circuit in Shanghai this coming Saturday, where fittingly the event – with the 110m hurdles being among the most popular events in China thanks to the legacy of 2004 Olympic champion Liu Xiang – is the last Diamond Race discipline on the programme.
McLeod is hoping to be the first man under 13 seconds for the event this year, perhaps even improving on his personal best of 12.97 set on home soil in Kingston last year.
However, if he doesn’t run that fast, it’s not likely to bother him unduly.
“My coach is still telling me not to think about times, just go out there and have fun, and that’s what I intend to do, have fun, go out there and execute my race, not think about times. The times will come.”
World record potential
His coach Doug Case, who guided him while McLeod ran for the University of Arkansas and where he continues to study to complete his business management degree, believes that on the evidence of his indoor performances and early season outings he has the potential to break Aries Merritt’s world record of 12.80 over the barriers, although he wisely added some caveats.
“Obviously, if you are going to run that kind of time, conditions are going to have to be perfect," said Case. "Training is going to have to be perfect, the race is going to have to be perfect, the competition is going to have to be perfect.
“I think it’s going to be really hard to run 12.8 or faster if nobody is running 12.9 with you; that being said, he has that potential.
“He is a tremendous athlete and nobody has ever run under that 10-flat barrier (for 100m) as a hurdler so obviously he has the foot speed to do it. It’s that he has to land all those conditions on the same day and something special can happen for him."
Case also said that believes McLeod can run faster than 9.99 for 100m.
McLeod's 100m time may have been helped by a 2.0m/s following wind and altitude of 425m, which had the affable McLeod nodding his head in agreement in Doha when it was put to him that this was the ‘perfect wave’. But on the evidence of McLeod's rather technically ragged outing in Fayetteville, Case has plenty to corroborate his argument.
“It was a surreal moment, to be honest, I didn’t expect it (the time)," said McLeod. "I knew I had speed but didn’t know it was that sort of speed.
“It was hard after the race to grasp that I’d run in the 9.9s. I could feel the wind on my back and when I saw the time, I thought ‘Uh, it’s probably about 3.5 (m/s)’. It was a simple run, I just got out of the blocks and tried to hold it.
“At one point in the race, I felt I was over-striding, it felt weird not going over barriers," he added. "Before the race I was joking with my coach, ‘what if I get eight strides into the race and jump up like there’s a hurdle there'. But it really felt good and I’d like to try a lot more 100s.”
Spoilt for choice
One event though he will probably not return to in the near future is the 400m hurdles.
He briefly held the Jamaican junior record with the 49.98 he ran in 2013 but hasn’t run the event in almost two years.
"Ultimately I had to choose one or the other (of the hurdles events)," he said. "My heart was in the 110m hurdles and that's where I want to continue competing."
The big question though, is not how diverse an athlete does Omar McLeod want to be, but why the 2016 model is clearly so much better than last year’s version.
McLeod is candid about how the improvement has come about.
“I’m a lot, lot better over the hurdles than last year, we’ve really worked hard on that. During the winter, I narrowed my focus on my technique which had been a big issue (in 2015).
“With my speed, the main thing now is controlling my speed, as I found myself going too close to the hurdles, so I’ve changed my stance in the blocks. There’s also been a lot more intensity in the weights room.”
In Shanghai on Saturday, there are high expectations that McLeod will give another demonstration of his improved prowess over the barriers.
Phil Minshull for the IAAF