On Aries Merritt

The 2012 season did not end well for Liu Xiang 刘翔. Although he had his string of memorable performances in the run-up to the Olympic Games, the year belonged to none other than Aries Merritt. As an avid athletics aficionado the past few decade, the American has been a familiar name ever since he competed with distinction in the tough U.S. collegiate circuit.

Of course, I felt bummed when Merritt dominated Liu in the World Indoors. At the same time, I was happy for the American. He has been part of the hurdling scene for the longest time. Seeing someone win his/her first ever major championship triump is a joy to behold – even at the expense of my boyhood hero.

But lo and behold, the best was yet to come for Merritt. As the season kicked into high gear, so did Merritt’s hurdling. I was particularly impressed with his string of consecutive low 12.90s clockings, which, incidentally, started a few races after the battle royale in Eugene (where Liu smoked ’em all!). No one has ever run so consistently in the sprint hurdles. Judging by the depth of the protagonists, the 110m hurdles Olympic final had the makings of a classic.

Even without the injured Liu and the hobbling Dayron Robles, the Olympic final was still one for the books as Merritt stamped his dominance on an overmatched field. Merritt made winning the Olympic gold so deceptively simple. He stopped the clock at 12.92s, matching the great Allen Johnson’s time at the Atlanta Olympics and a mere one-hundredth of a second from Liu’s Olympic record.

In the countless articles and interviews I’ve read with Merritt, the primary drivers for his 2012 success would have to be his being injury free and the shift to a seven-step start. Although I personally think that Merritt’s lead arm carriage is too high, especially when compared to the likes of Liu and Colin Jackson, the American’s blistering speed in between the barriers is his strongest point. An efficient technique over the barriers, coupled with lightning quick steps in between the hurdles, is the recipe for blistering hurdling times.

A few hours before Merritt’s world record breaking race, I came across Lawrence Clarke’s tweet about Malcolm Arnold’s race plan: “From the coach: ‘Good luck tonight. Beat the fellow on your left.’ He’s only going to break the World Record….”

True enough, Aries Merritt did not disappoint!

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