RJR Sports Awards Nominee | McLeod's Magic
As a schoolboy at Manchester High Omar McLeod showed promise.
A less-hyped member of Jamaica's team to the IAAF World Youth Championships in Lille, France, back in 2011, if not a medal magnet, McLeod, in what was his first real taste of top level international competition showed that while the medals were missing then, he certainly had the wiring of a champion.
Unlike many of his Jamaican teammates at the championships, McLeod did not leave the island's shores to headlines and mass expectations He did not arrive in the French city to any fanfare, but when he left, he certainly gave a glimpse of the type of athlete he would become, the type of athlete he matured into over the past two seasons.
Fourth place in the 110m hurdles and eighth in the 400m hurdles with a spot on the second-place sprint medley relay team were his results. The outcome was not the most glittering, but his effort and performance over his seven races in three days laid the foundation.
It sparked a fire and he later seemed to flip a switch after his move to Kingston College. He was unleashed, and as his confidence grew, the records tumbled.
Back then he was still competing in both the 110m hurdles, and 400m hurdles and in his final year as a high-school athlete, in 2013, he set records in both events at the ISSA-GraceKennedy Boys and Girls Athletics Championships, becoming the first Jamaican junior to dip below 50 seconds in the longer event with a 49.98-second run.
He would take his talents to the University of Arkansas, where he quickly established himself as a leading collegiate sprinter.
There was little surprise when he turned pro in 2015, and although he didn't get on the podium at the World Championships in Beijing that summer with an eighth place finish after winning the national title for the first time, McLeod again was laying the foundations - like he did in Lille.
The year 2016 brought new expectations for the wide-smiling McLeod, who showed his intentions right at the start of the year with an amazing World Indoor Championships campaign.
McLeod, who became the first Jamaican to win gold in the 60m hurdles at the championships, hurried along to the finish line in a national record 7.41 seconds.
"I was really impressed that I actually won. I didn't go there with the expectancy. I am not doubting myself, but there were experienced people in the event, so I was just going there to have fun and it led to a gold medal, so I was really grateful and it definitely set me up for the rest of the season," McLeod told The Gleaner of his success at the World Indoors acting as a springboard for what was to come.
He would underline his immense all-round ability with a 'stand-up, and run' 9.99 seconds in the 100m just over a month later to add fuel to strong belief that he will be the man to lower Aries Merritt's 12.80 world record when that speed is fully applied in the 110m hurdles.
He duly took his form to the circuit, dominating the Diamond League, winning his first six races of the outdoor season with a 12.98s run at the Shanghai Diamond League stop making it almost impossible for writers to punch in his name without adding the words 'Olympic gold medal favourite' a few strokes along.
Trouble in his next two races in Monaco and Hungary brought questions about his ability to handle the expectations, but the sprint hurdler was clear about his own convictions.
"What trouble? those didn't happen. I am not even thinking about anything but to go to the Olympics and execute and deliver," he said just before his arrival in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympic spectacle.
The youngster certainly delivered, tackling hurdles, rain and seven other determined hurdles to again become another first, crossing the line in 13.05 seconds to carve his name as the first Jamaican Olympic champion in the event.
The emotions that followed still play vividly on his mind.
"Its an amazing feeling, that's the pinnacle of all sport. Just to be an Olympian is a big deal, and to be an Olympic champion, it's even a bigger deal, and never in a million years did I think I would achieve that so early. I remember it like yesterday, its an indescribable feeling, its awesome to be honest," McLeod shared.
"It was a great year obviously. I set goals for the year and I think I accomplished all of them: World Indoors, first athlete to go sub-10 and sub-13, being the first athlete to win an Olympic gold for my country in the 110m hurdles, so it was an astonishing year and I am really grateful for that and I am looking forward to an even better career because I still don't think I have maximised my full potential as yet and that's what makes it a lot more exciting for me," McLeod added.
He ended the year winning nine of his 12 races in the 110m hurdles and was unbeaten in the 60m hurdles with six wins.
Such dominance is not often seen in his trade, leaving little surprise around his first nomination for the RJR Sports Foundation National Sportsman of the Year Awards.
The winner is set to be announced at a ceremony at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel on Friday.