Pressure, what pressure? ... Star hurdler McLeod embraces favourite's tag after early season dominance
Hotshot Jamaican sprint hurdler Omar McLeod has gone from dominating collegiate athletes to having his way with the best on the planet in the space of a year.
However, he has underlined that he is not surprised by his seamless transition and says he feels no pressure despite his rise as the main target in the event.
McLeod, who impressed as a youngster first at Manchester High and then during a single season at Kingston College before laying waste to the US Collegiate circuit as a University of Arkansas Razorback, has taken to the professional ranks with an ease and composure that belies his age and experience. While it has come as a surprise to some, the 22 year-old maintains that the fundamental strides were already taken last season as he embraces the challenges ahead in what is one of the most competitive events in international athletics.
"I'm not surprised, I had been working hard last year, the conditioning was right and I knew the talent was there. I knew all I had to do was stay healthy and since then we have bumped up the weights; I am a lot stronger now and also a lot faster this year as well so I am not surprised at how well I have transitioned and how well I'm competing right now," McLeod told The Gleaner ahead of his competition at the IAAF Diamond League in Shanghai, China.
The Jamaican, who won NCAA indoor titles in 2014 and 2015, when he ran 7.45 seconds to set a new Jamaican national record and break the 18-year NCAA record for the 60m hurdles. He also claimed the NCAA outdoor title in 2015 before returning to Jamaica to win the National Championships in 12.97 seconds, shortly before announcing his decision to turn pro.
This year, McLeod helped himself to the World Indoor Championships gold medal and is responsible for the two fastest times over the 110m hurdles going into this morning's meet 13.05 and 13.08. He had also registered eight straight wins this season and is already seen as a huge contender for the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Rio.
"To be honest it's a honour to be competing at this level with these guys, I respect them so much; there's no pressure, I'm just out there having fun and when I'm having fun it's much easier for me," he noted of his now regular battles with the event's heavyweights.
"I am happy that I am in a position where I am able to be acknowledged at this level. Winning at the World Indoors Championships was definitely a confidence booster for me and transitioning outdoors, this helped because you are ahead of everybody else so to speak, so you have to just use it as a stepping stone and use it to your advantage as best as possible," added McLeod.
Where he has perhaps improved the most over the past year is in his ground speed, which was evident as he stopped the clock on 9.99 in his only 100m race.
It's a development that has brought its own challenges as McLeod explained.
"I know with my speed that the main thing for me is to control any race I am in, the speed is already there so I need to control my races. Last week in Doha the hurdles I've never felt the last three hurdles come at me so quickly, so I hit them really bad and I was surprised at the time I ran because it wasn't a flawless race at all. So going forward, I will be focusing on controlling the race and my technique," McLeod shared. "It is difficult, I had to back my blocks up by two steps so I'm able to power up more but now the hurdles are coming up really fast ..."