Olympic champ tips McLeod for greatness
Reigning Olympic 110 metres hurdles champion Aries Merritt believes new kid on the bloc Omar McLeod could go on to become one of the greatest sprint hurdlers ever.
McLeod burst on to the international scene last year with a series of impressive performances, ending with a sixth-place finish at the World Championships - his first senior finals.
He started out 2016 by winning the 60m World Indoor title, a feat the American Merritt also achieved back in 2012. McLeod also got the better of a very strong field, which included Merritt, David Oliver, and Hansle Parchment to win at his first Diamond League outing in Doha with a world-leading 13.05 seconds.
"There are a lot of new age athletes appearing as the old people start to transition out of the sport," Merritt said. "There is always a new wave of athletes who come around and take their place, and so I think he has the potential to definitely be one of the greatest hurdlers of all time. He is very young, he is very talented, and he just needs to stay healthy and the sky is the limit for him."
At 22 years old, McLeod has a personal best in the 110m hurdles of 12.97 seconds - a time Merritt is impressed with given his age.
"I wasn't running his times when I was his age. I was running like 13.0, so he is already ahead of me at this point of his life," the 30-year-old Merritt said.
McLeod has also impressed in the 100m this year after creating history last month when he dipped below 10 seconds to become the first athlete to run under 10 seconds for the 100m and sub-13 seconds for the 110m hurdles.
But while even McLeod admitted to having been stunned by his 9.99 seconds 100m run, Merritt was not.
"No, it didn't catch me by surprise. He has always been quick, and at Arkansas (University), he ran well," Merritt said. "I feel like sprinting is something that Jamaica does really well. Like, if you are a Jamaican, you are going to be a fast sprinter; it is just in your blood."
Merritt believes the men's sprint hurdles is as competitive as it has ever been with as many as eight men technically able to run 12.9 seconds. But it is the development of McLeod and 24-year-old Hansle Parchment he will be watching with keen interest.
"The sky is definitely the limit for Omar and Hansle. They are both very young; they have both run under 13 seconds way sooner than I did," Merritt reiterated. "He (McLeod) is not the ideal size for a hurdler, so to speak. Parchment is definitely the ideal size, and so it will be really interesting to see which one of them develops the best in the long run.
"As long as Omar is fast, he will always be a good hurdler because the shorter you are, the faster you have to be, and the taller you are, the more technical you have to be."