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Category Archives: Aries Merritt
November 4, 2012Posted by on
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!
August 18, 2012Posted by on
Even if I’m gutted to see Liu Xiang 刘翔crash out of yet another Olympics, it is time to make my customary post-Championships analysis of the athletics’ best event (my biased opinion!).
What struck me the most were the numerous DNF’s and DQ’s. Being an athlete and a sprint hurdler myself, I know for a fact that getting those acronyms written after one’s name is far from a pleasant experience. Even more so in the case of these Olympians, who had trained for many years for this one shot at World’s Greatest Show.
Four athletes failed to finish in Liu’s qualifying heat. In addition to Liu, Shane Brathwaite and Artur Noga did not make it past the initial flights of hurdles. Senegal’s Moussa Dembele was unable to finish, as he faltered midway into the race. In the other heats, four more hurdlers made early exits from Olympic contention, including British hope Andrew ‘The Demolition Man” Pozzi. Pozzi had recently run 13.34s in Crystal Palace, bolstering his chances of making the Olympic final.
Save for the Liu, the rest of the pre-Olympics favorites (Aries Merritt and Jason Richardon, in particular) all made it through to the next round. Merritt topped the heats with a qualifying time of 13.07s. Sergey Shubenkov (13.26s), Jason Richardson (13.33s), Orlando Ortega (13.26s), Dayron Robles (13.33s), and Andy Turner (13.42s) all won their respective qualifying heats.
The American duo of Merritt and Richardson was unchallenged in the semifinal round, as they took the outright finals tickets with relative ease. Richardson stopped the clock at 13.13s in the first semifinal, while Merritt was one-hundredths of second away from clocking yet another 12.93s. The defending Olympic Champion, Dayron Robles, shrugged off initial injury fears with a classy 13.10s.
Ryan Braithwaite, Ortega, and Hansle Parchment were the other automatic qualifiers. Briton Lawrence Clarke and South African Lehan Fourie surprisingly made it to the magic eight, as more fancied prospects like European Champion Sergey Shubenkov and Garfield Darien fell by the wayside.
Prior to London, I picked the young Shubenkov as an outside contender for a podium spot, in light of his impressive string of races. True enough, he looked well at ease in the heats. However, he stumbled in the semis and was unable to progress to the next round.
The only surprise in the final was Robles’ unfortunate injury. In my opinion, the World Record holder could have won at least a bronze medal, had his legs held through.
Robles, Richardson, and Merritt – all seven-step starters – were running practically abreast until the fourth flight of hurdles, when the Cuban pulled up with an injured hamstring. Merritt began to gradually pad his lead over Richarson and the rest of the field in a sterling display of fluid hurdling and jaw-dropping speed in between the barriers.
As expected, Merritt and Richarson won gold and silver. Merritt seemed to have escaped the clutches of yet another 12.93s clocking, as he registered a winning time of 12.92s – one-hundredth of a second off Liu’s Olympic record. Richardson won silver in 13.04s, as Parchment surprisingly lifted the bronze with his 13.12s Jamaican national record.
Running in the first lane, the fast-starting Clarke gave British fans something to cheer about with his fourth place finish (13.39s), fending off the late race challenge of the 2009 World Champion, Braithwaite.
July 21, 2012Posted by on
Aries Merritt ran below 13 seconds at the Monaco leg of the Samsung Diamond League. With the Olympics opening barely a week away, this was a strong signal that he really does mean business.
Merritt took off like a bullet, with a reaction time of 0.112s. A recent convert to the seven-stride starting pattern, the former U.S. collegiate champion cleared the first barrier ahead of the other hurdlers.
Merritt tied his personal best of 12.93s, the fastest time in the world this year, for the third time this season! Richardson, the 2011 World Champion, got second place (13.08s), with the newly-minted European Champion Sergey Shubenkov (13.09s) breathing down his neck all the way to the finish line. Oliver was fourth in 13.14s.
Whereas Richardson had the tendency to hit hurdles, Merritt has been flawless over the barriers. I’ve often overlooked Merritt when it comes to technical proficiency, particularly because of his high lead arm carriage. But he clears hurdles like a beast – a controlled and serene one at that. Merritt’s lead leg action is remarkably compact. He is not as aggressive and brooding as Oliver. Merritt has this certain kind of relaxed flair reminiscent of a Roger Kingdom.
Shubenkov was the revelation of the race. Although he had first run his 13.09s national record at the Helskinki European Championships preliminaries, doing it again on Monaco – against the full firepower of the American hurdling nation, at that – is no mean feat.
Overall, it was an entertaining race to watch. You can see from the expressions of the hurdlers prior to race, Shubenkov and Merritt in particular, the sheer love and joy hurdling. There was none of that “we’re all grumpy professionals and we do this for the money” crap!
I’m still sticking with my forecast for London 2012, albeit with slight revisions: Liu Xiang 刘翔 shall win a close fight for gold against Merritt, with Richardson and Shubenkov slugging it out for the bronze.
Results (from the Samsung Diamond League website):
July 14, 2012Posted by on
I stayed up late last night to watch the London Grand Prix leg of the Diamond League. I eagerly anticipated the 110m hurdles, as Liu Xiang 刘翔, Aries Merritt and Jason Richardson were slated to go on another head-to-head.
However, Liu pulled out of the final, after notching a qualifying time of 13.28s in the heats. He looked like his usual self as he jogged to the finish line, a place in the final in the bag.
When the announcers mentioned that he won’t be running in the main draw, I thought that the birthday boy was just playing mind games with Merritt and Richardson.
Merrrit was superb in the final, stopping the clock at 12.93s to tie his world leading time this year.
While watching the ESPN news channel, I felt a chill run down my spine when I read the words “Liu casts doubt on Olympic campaign” – or something similar. When the words “Liu” and “injury” are juxtaposed, memories of that fateful day in Beijing back in 2008 comes to mind.
According to Sun Haiping in an Associated Press interview, Liu “felt a little uncomfortable in his back after the heat round. We decided to pull out of the finals just for the sake of caution.”
I wish the best for Liu – and a speedy recovery from this minor injury.
July 2, 2012Posted by on
The U.S. Olympic Trials highlighted the fact that the United States’ historical dominance in sprint hurdling. The semis and the finals of the cutthroat Olympic qualifying event saw Jason Richardson run 12.98s twice. Aries Merritt, the 2012 World Indoor Champion, ran 13.01s in the semis.
Merritt, who had been in the shadows of his more illustrious competitors for the longest time, stopped the clock at 12.93s. These were Merritt’s and Richardson’s first wind-legal forays below 13 seconds (Merritt ran a wind-aided 12.96s at the Prefontaine Classic this year).
I’m particularly happy for Merritt. It’s high time he gets the recognition he deserves. With his performance at the Olympic Trials, he has drawn level with hurdling great Renaldo Nehemiah in the all-time list. Merritt is now the fourth-fastest American in the 110m hurdles, behind David Oliver (12.89s), Dominique Arnold (12.90s), and Allen Johnson (12.91s).
As the Olympics draw near, it is great to finally see two of the event’s elite barge into the exclusive sub-13 group.
June 20, 2012Posted by on
At first, I had qualms about the “no-false” rule in athletics. It’s not that hard to re-start a sprint race, unlike in swimming where the process of climbing up a pool is relatively more cumbersome. The old rule seems aptly just: the second athlete who false starts gets disqualified. But then again, rules are rules. The implementation of the no-false start policy is marginally better for TV coverage, as it facilitates a quicker turnover of events.
But what happens when an official is at fault?
When I was watching the Adidas Grand Prix a few weeks back, I was appalled by the quality of the official starters. The pause before the retort of the gun was too long. Naturally, this unsettled the sprinters more – the 110m high hurdlers in particular. The sprint hurdles is a highly technical event that puts emphasis on rhythm. Once you have these consistently long pauses in the start, the hurdlers become unsettled.
Aries Merritt, the newly-minted American record holder, was shown a red card because of an early twitch in his foot. He was allowed to run under protest, but false-started again (I won’t delve into this running-under-protest issue. I have to do my research first). The third attempt to restart the race was just ugly, with Jamaican Hansle Parchment twitching his foot. By this time, David Oliver was visibly pissed. He shook his head as he made his way back to the starting line. Jason Richardson, the 2011 World Champion, sat down on the track and gave out an exasperated smile.
When the race finally got underway, everyone’s rhythm was thrown off equilibrium. Parchment clipped the second hurdle and lost his balance, dropping out of the race. Dwight Thomas crashed into the final barrier and fell flat on the track. Both incidents were scary, from the vantage point of a sprint hurdler. It’s a good thing nothing serious happened to Parchment and Thomas.
The Jamaican even managed to finish the race despite his nasty crash. My hat is off to Thomas for doing a Derek Redmond.
What was billed as a match up between Merritt, Richardson and Oliver turned into a farce. Richardson won the event in 13.18s, with Jeff Porter (13.26s), the promising Cuban Orlando Ortega (13.35s), and Oliver (13.37s) rounding up the next three.
June 3, 2012Posted by on
I was supposed to watch the replay of the Prefontaine Classic, instead of staying up late to watch the live Euro Sport feed (I got home late). But I could not sleep. Soon enough, the clock struck 2:30 AM. I turned on the boob tube and my eyes were glued. I wasn’t disappointed.
The 110m high hurdles field featured a stellar lineup. At the heart of Tracktown, USA. Liu Xiang 刘翔 faced off with the best sprint hurdlers the United States had to offer. The 2004 Olympic Champion was the fastest off the blocks (0.131). As soon as the race commenced, Jason Richardson was 1/4 of a stride behind Liu. On Richardson’s left, Aries Merritt felled the first two hurdles and had to play catch up.
Liu was the portrait of perfection as he skimmed over the 1.067-meter high barriers and blazed through the three steps in between. The former world record built up his lead with every hurdle flight. By the halfway mark, he was pulling away from Richardson and Merritt. The 2012 World Indoor Champion, Merritt, recovered his bearing by the eight hurdler, as he overtook the fading Richardson.
The Chinese athletics star was in a class of his own. Upon clearing the tenth and final hurdle, Liu turned on his afterburners and dove to the tape, stopping the clock in 12.87s – faster than his erstwhile world record of 12.88s in 2006. Had the wind-reading been within the allowable limit, Liu’s swashbuckling performance would have tied Dayron Robles‘ world record.
The race was reminscent of Liu’s world record setting run in Lausanne back in 2006, with another American, with Merritt playing the role of Dominique Arnold (who set a then American record of 12.90s).
Lost in the wake of Liu’s phenomenal hurdling was Merritt, who dipped below the 13.00s barrier for the first time, albeit with a 2.4 m/s tail wind. The troika of Richardson (13.11s), Dexter Faulk (13.12s) and David Oliver (13.13s) was separated by just one-hundredths of a second.
Even if it was three-o’clock in the morning in the Philippines, I raised my arms in triumph and cheered like a madman at Liu’s victory! Seeing him in cloud is infectious! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Liu is definitely back!
Screenshot from the Samsung Diamond League website
The IAAF article on the Eugene 110m high hurdles read “Liu Xiang stuns with 12.87w Victory in Eugene.” His race, despite the tail wind, was one for the books. It was a stellar run, a picture-perfect performance, and a dominant display of hurdling. But it certainly wasn’t stunning. The word evokes surprise. Liu Xiang has a personal best of 12.88s and had run 12.97s this season. Him running 12.87w is not surprising – or stunning.
May 23, 2012Posted by on
The 110m high hurdles in the 38th Prefontaine Classic has the makings of an epic race. Eugene, the United States’ Tracktown, is the fourth stop of the Samsung Diamond League.
For the first time since the controversial sprint hurdles final in Daegu last year, Liu Xiang 刘翔 will square off with world record holder Dayron Robles. Not to be outdone, a formidable array of American hurdling power is slated to defend home soil. At the forefront of the U.S. challenge is 2011 World Champion Jason Richardson, 2012 World Indoor Champion Aries Merritt and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist David Oliver.
An interesting addition is Ashton Eaton, the heptathlon world record holder. Eaton, who attended the University of Oregon, will go head-to-head against the aforesaid sprint hurdling specialists onhis home track.
In terms of personal bests, Robles leads the pack with his current 12.87s world record. Liu (12.88s) and Oliver (12.94s) are the only one who had run below the 13-second barrier. Merritt (13.03s) and Richardson (13.04s) have almost identical lifetime bests. Shi had run an impressive 13.19s at the Osaka World Championships final, but have failed to replicate that form the past five years. Turner (13.22s) and Eaton (13.35s) round up the bottom two.
Liu, the 2012 world leader with 12.97s, is my pick to win the race (of course!), in light of his dominating performance at the recently concluded Shanghai Diamond League. I expect Robles (who is still recovering from an injury) to figure in a tight battle for second place with the in-form American sprint hurdling troika.
The talented Eaton could spring a surprise. If Shi and Turner perform below par, they could get beaten by a multi-eventer.
I know I’m getting ahead of myself when I say this, but the Eugene protagonists could possibly figure in the greatest sprint hurdling spectacle of all-time. We could see a new world record, should the conditions be conducive. The foursome of Liu, Oliver, Merrit and Richardson could all dip under 13-seconds. We might even see a rare dead heat! Regardless of the outcome, this race shall be one for the books.
May 19, 2012Posted by on
Competing in his home city of Shanghai, Liu stamped his class on a loaded sprint hurdles field. The 2004 Athens Olympic champion came out of the blocks well, trailing Jason Richardson (13.13s) by the smallest of margins. As the race unfolded, Liu got his rhythm going.
He was dominant in the latter stages, completely obliterating the formidable American hurdling troika of Richardson, David Oliver (13.16s), and Aries Merritt, the erstwhile 2011 world leader and the 2012 World Indoor champion (at Liu’s expense). Liu stopped the clock in 12.97s, his fastest time since since 2007! This is also his first foray under the 13-second barrier in five years.
Liu ran with unbridled intensity. It was as if he competed in a major championship final, instead of a Diamond League race. Considering the quality of the competition, Liu couldn’t just disappoint the Chinese spectators – at this hometown at that. Liu dove to finish line, despite his massive lead. He took off his vest as soon as he hit the tape, immediately beginning his lap of honor. Liu’s display of gratitude was touching.
With the Olympics just around the corner, the former world record holder has sent a clear message to his rivals that he means business.
Results from the Diamond League website
March 14, 2012Posted by on
I’m terribly disappointed to see Liu Xiang 刘翔 fall short of the World Indoor title. The way he ran the final was uncharacteristic of the 2004 Olympic Champion. He had a good start, but he clipped the second and fifth hurdles. As a keen student of Liu’s hurdling style, I know for a fact that he rarely hits hurdles – much less bring down a barrier all the way to the track.
Perhaps he has been experiencing rhythm problems ever since he got disqualified in a Stockholm race a few weeks back.
Nevertheless, I’m happy for Aries Merritt. For far too long, the former American collegiate champion has lurked in the shadows of the more prominent hurdlers of today. En route to his first major championship gold medal, Merritt ran a superbly clean race, stopping the clock in 7.44s, one-hundredth of a second off his personal best set back in February. Since winning the World Junior title in Grossetto back in 2004, this was Merritt’s second major championship final. He finished a far fifth in Daegu last year.
Two youngsters trailed the two hurdling veterans. France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde took bronze in a new personal best of 7.53s. Britain’s Andrew Pozzi finished in fourth place, five-hundredths of a second behind Martinot-Lagarde. The Frenchman and Briton, both just 20 years old, edged out several more experienced competitors. Like Merritt, Martinot-Lagarde is the reigning World Junior champion from Moncton.
In the mixed race interview above, Merritt even failed to hear the gun during his semi-final heat! His dream run to the title could have ended there and then! Good thing he eventually caught up to second place.
My pre-race projection – Liu, Merritt and Martinot-Lagarde – almost came to fruition. Nevertheless, it was an exciting series of races. It was great to watch the young guns slug it out with grizzled veterans.
March 12, 2012Posted by on
The way Britain’s Andrew Pozzi cleared the final barrier was one for the books. Hurdling coaches always emphasize aggressiveness. But perhaps the exuberant Pozzi was a bit too harsh on the tenth hurdle!
Pozzi pummels the last hurdle! (Photo from Zimbio/Getty Images)
Britain’s talented hurdler, Pozzi, ran the race of his life in Istanbul. After narrowly edging out Athens Olympic Champion Liu Xiang in the heats and notching an impressive personal best (7.56s), The Demolition Man placed a hard fought fourth in the final. The young Briton stopped the clock in 7.58s, behind the newly-minted World Indoor Champion, Aries Merritt (7.44s), Liu (7.49s) and fellow youngster Pascal Martinot-Lagarde (7.53s).
Congratulations to Andrew “The Demolition Man” Pozzi for a memorable debut on the world stage!
March 10, 2012Posted by on
I’ve missed the morning session of Day 2 of the ongoing World Indoor Championships in Istanbul because I had athletics training. Luckily, the clips of the first two heats have already been uploaded to Youtube.
With Dayron Robles pulling out of Istanbul because of a leg injury (and possibly, motivation problems), the prospect of a legendary clash between Liu Xiang and Robles has been delayed. The newly-crowned world champion Jason Richardson and American record holder David Oliver are missing from the start list.
Liu, the former world record holder in the outdoor distance, is the undeniable favorite to win the title. He’s in sterling shape, having set an Asian Record of 7.41s a few weeks back. Liu already has a full set of World Indoor Championships medals from 2003, 2004 and 2008, when he won a bronze, silver and gold, respectively.
On paper, Liu is the fastest competitor amongst the Istanbul participants this season. Aries Merritt (7.43s A), Russia’s Konstantin Shabanov (7.52s), and France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde (7.54s) round up the next three. Kevin Craddock, with a season’s best of 7.46s A didn’t start his heat.
Martinot-Lagarde, the 2010 World Junior Champion, won the first heat in classy fashion. He had a great start, and ran abreast with four other guys in his heat before gradually powering his way to first place, edging out South Africa’s Lehann Fourie by one-hundredths of a second.
Liu Xiang had a relatively slow reaction time (0.214s), like most of the sprinters and hurdlers competing in the 60m distance. Perhaps he was trying to be careful, in light of the unexpected exits of several big names due to the starting fiasco in Istanbul. Britain’s Andrew Pozzi took the second heat in 7.61s, as Liu (7.62s) slowed down to finish line.
Merritt (7.66s) and Emanuele Abate of Italy (7.71s) won the next two heats.
My picks for top two are Liu and Merritt. Liu, with his injury-plagued seasons finally behind him is hungry for a world title. It’s high time the hard working Merritt wins his share of the limelight too.
The field is open for third place. If I were a betting (which I am not), my money’s on Martinot-Lagarde. His laid-back demeanor reminds me so much of Liu. Happy hurdlers are dangerous competitors. Expect the Martinot-Lagarde to spring a surprise in Istanbul.
February 20, 2012Posted by on
In the first clash between Liu Xiang (刘翔) and Dayron Robles since the controversial 110m high hurdle final in Daegu, the 2004 Olympic Champion ran roughshod over the opposition. From the gun to the tape, Liu was unchallenged. Even the fast-starting Robles was behind by half a stride right out of the blocks, despite having a lightning quick reaction time of 0.009s compared to Liu’s 0.154. Only Dexter Faulk over in lane 1 was fast enough match Liu’s pace.
In usual Liu fashion, he ran a clean race. Whereas the erratic Robles clipped the final barrier.
The former world record holder stopped the clock in 7.41s, way faster than his 7.55s season’s best from 2011. His time in the final was one-hundredth of a second faster than his previous best of 7.42s from 2007. Robles ran a season’s best of 7.50s.
The American troika of Faulk, Kevin Craddock and Jeff Porter all registered identical times of 7.54s, but finished in the aforesaid order following a closer inspection of the photo finish tape. Aries Merritt was a close sixth with 7.55s.
It feels great seeing my idol win! His post-race celebration – devoid of bravado and chest-thumping – was characteristic of Liu!
“I still feel I didn’t do very well over the first two hurdles and there is work to be done there,” said Liu Xiang in an IAAF article. “I am excited about the rest of the year now.” It’s important to note that prior to 2011, Liu had an 8-step approach to the first hurdles. Considering the fact that he had run faster than his 2007 best, the prospects for this March’s World Indoor Championships look bright – and astoundingly fast.
I’m not discounting Robles just yet. After all, the 2008 Olympic Champion owns the second-fastest 60m hurdles time in history (7.33s).
I have to commend the organizers for a well-thought out move. To prevent a probable clash of arms between the two hurdling titans, the quick-thinking Brits placed Aries Merritt right in the middle of the two!
August 29, 2011Posted by on
There were hardly any surprises after the 110m high hurdles heats. The defending champion from Barbados, Ryan Brathwaite, took an early ignominious exit (13.57s). But then again, his 2011 has been less than inspiring.
The trio of Liu Xiang 刘翔 (13.20s), Dayron Robles (13.42s) and David Oliver (13.27s) made it through, but it was Jason Richardson who topped all qualifiers with his 13.19s time. I’d have to say that both Liu and Robles look in-form, as they practically jogged through the heats. Oliver, in contrast, was a tad tense (well, he always hurdles that way).
The semis are scheduled at 7:00 PM Daegu time, with the finals being held at 9:25 PM.
My fearless forecast still sticks: Liu Xiang for gold and Dayron Robles for silver. Expect Richardson and Oliver to figure in a tight battle for bronze. Casting aside (momentarily) my obvious bias for my idol Liu Xiang, picking a someone amongst the stellar cast is a difficult task.