As much as Aries Merritt “had a ballistic start” from lane four in the March 11th 60-meter Hurdles World Indoor Championship final in which he realized his first major title in 7.44 seconds, so too has been the start of his 2012 season. “Where the bulk of my training went to this year, was focusing trying to get this approach down to the first hurdle,” revealed Merritt explaining he needed to make “a big change” and switch his “steps from eight to seven,” a decision which he actually determined last season after observing his “competitors … having immediate results or immediate success with switching” at the 2011 World Championships.
After not running a step in 2010 because of a stress fracture in his foot, Merritt enjoyed a “stellar indoor season in 2011 … that carried over to [his] outdoor season,” which ultimately culminated in the final round of the Men’s 110-meter Hurdles in Daegu, Korea. “I kind of got hurt a little bit going into Daegu, but it’s the World Championships,” says Merritt adding, “you got to put all those fears aside and just run and that’s what I did there; it allowed me to see where I was physically and I know that I need to work on a few things.”
And “work” is what it will take for Merritt to realize his current goal, “to break that 13 second barrier and join the 12-second club.” Merritt’s early 2012 indoor season, which saw him realize a string of consistent 7.4 to 7.5 performances, suggests that “sub-club” membership privileges should arrive this outdoor season. “Outdoors has always been my stronger suit … so me perfecting the first half of my race is only just a snippet of what’s to come ….I’m ready to do something deadly,” projects Merritt.
Known to be a “finisher rather than a starter,” the 2012 US National Champion firsts hopes to “run a series of 13-flats consistently” by now “working on those little things [that] will help me reach my goal for this year.” Merritt’s established best of 13.09 seconds set in August of 2007 in Stockholm, Sweden, would be improved by “getting lower over [the] hurdle and snapping [his] lead leg down just a little bit faster and moving [his] trail leg through just a little bit quicker,” according to the Reebok sprinter.
And in event where every micron of every second is conducive to the race, Merritt all too well understands and has experienced the unforgiving hardship of the high hurdles. “It all happened so fast,” recalls Merritt of 2008 U.S. Olympic Trial where competitor Anwar Moore stumbled into his lane relegating Merritt to a fourth place finish two-hundredths of a second away from qualifying for the Olympic Team. “Just those little bitty split seconds, it can cost you; it can cost you anytime. It cost me a spot on the Olympic team,” painfully says Merritt ever mindful that the “hurdles is a full contact sport because you can hit it yourself or someone else can hit you or someone can make you hit a hurdle from hitting you; it just ridiculous, I’ve had all kinds of things happen to me!”
Former 110-meter Hurdle World Record Holder Renaldo Nehemiah offered this of the men’s event:
“That race is not over ‘til it’s over. It’s the longest race because you can’t get to the finish line fast enough You’re on pins and needles because one mistake … you can go from first to last that quickly ... and you can lose by thousandth’s of seconds… it’s a very nerve wracking event and you have to maintain your composure and your tunnel vision and your focus and patience in that race. You have to be a fierce competitor, but you have to be patient when executing the hurdles and not trying to rush the hurdles. It’s a physical race, there’s contact throughout the race ... it embodies the speed and the power and the grace and balance and coordination and so when it’s done right to perfection, it’s a thing of beauty.” – Renaldo Nehemiah
But Merritt will be satisfied should he place second at this year’s U.S. Olympic Trials and in the process securing his position on his first Olympic Team for the London 2012 Summer Games. “The competition right here in America is the fiercest it’s ever been I believe. We just have so much depth,” says Merritt surmising, “Our Olympic Trials is pretty much going to be the Olympic final, if you think about, I means it really is going to be the Olympic final. You’re pretty much going to have to run a lifetime best if the conditions are right and everyone’s at their best to make the team.”
Most assuredly that Olympic final will feature China’s Liu Xiang who Merritt admits got a “boost” after besting him at the 2012 World Indoor Championships to win his gold medal. “Any time you race a former Olympic champion and world record holder, it’s always an honor and you know that you have to perform at your best and so I feel like I did that on that day,” says Merritt who will look and need to put down his career personal best to maintain the top podium position.
“You really don’t know when you’re going to run something like that it just happens when it does,” explains Merritt whose first opportunities to “join the sub-club” this outdoor season will come at some Diamond League races, Shanghai, Prefontaine Classic and Adidas Grand Prix before competing in the U.S. Trials at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon this June.