Hubert lawrence | Omar McLeod - the new king?
Everywhere I turn, the same question confronts me: Who will take on Usain Bolt's role as the male spearhead of Jamaican track and field? Yet, the sprint-focused answers I get tend consistently to leave out one fine candidate - 110 metres hurdles king Omar McLeod.
Other than Bolt, McLeod is Jamaica's first male Olympic champion since Donald Quarrie. In Bolt-like fashion, he is brilliant in big meets with wins at Boys and Girls' Championships and the United States' NCAA Championships as proof. Last year, he did the double with a fast 60 metres hurdles win at the World Indoor Championships and a safe win at the Olympics.
If it takes some time for our male sprinters to cover Bolt's absence, McLeod may lead a shift in public interest to the hurdles. In fact, the 110m hurdles is lining up to match the 100 metres as Jamaica's best men's event. Right now, McLeod, Olympic and World Championships medallist Hansle Parchment pack a powerful one-two punch.
Add 2014 Commonwealth champ Andrew Riley, Olympic semi-finalist Deuce Carter and World Under-20 finalist DeJour Russell and Jamaica is set for another decade of progress in the barrier event. Russell broke McLeod's Boys' Champs Class One record to pinpoint him as one to watch.
Ronald Levy of the University of Technology, the Jamaica Intercollegiate champion, beat Parchment recently and won at the Penn Relays. Once he stays healthy, Levy will be in the picture at the National Senior Championships.
We aren't dead in the sprints by any means, but if Bolt chooses to retire tomorrow, McLeod would be Jamaica's top male long-range gold medal prospect for this year's World Championships. As evidence, the 23 year-old blitzed a season opener of 13.04 seconds in rainy conditions on April 29. It was stunning.
Some experts think McLeod has the capability to chase the hurdles record. It won't be easy. In a superb 2012 season, Aries Merritt of the United States followed his Olympic triumph in London with a flawless run of 12.80 seconds.
NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE
By comparison, McLeod's best is three-hundredths off Parchment's national record of 12.94. It's a long way from 12.97 to 12.80 seconds, but nothing is impossible. For all we know, McLeod's combination of quick starts, sub-10 sprint speed and slick hurdling could close the gap.
With Parchment back from the injury that barred him from the Olympics, it's a good guess that he and McLeod will lay siege to his national record.
With the best returning to London this August for the 2017 World Championships, McLeod will no doubt be determined to win. If the record comes, as it did in 12.91 seconds at the 1993 Worlds for Briton Colin Jackson, then so be it.
Record or not, if he wins the 110 metres hurdles in London in a World Championships that will be Bolt's last, the mantle of Jamaican greatness will be passed to him. Based on all we've seen in 2016 and 2017, the 23-year-old McLeod looks ready to assume duties as Jamaica's top male athlete.
- Hubert Lawrence has made notes at trackside since 1980.