LONDON – A change in technique has made Aries Merritt the hottest high hurdler in the world, but the American today refused to brand himself the favourite for the London Olympics.
That honour belongs to 2004 Games champion Liu Xiang of China, Merritt told reporters on a sunny day at the U.S. Olympic training camp in Birmingham.
“This is his third Olympics and this is my first, so he has way more experience than me,” Merritt said.
“I have experience when it comes to the world stage, like world championships, but on the Olympic setting, it is a different stage and he has the experience and has a championship.”
Three times in recent weeks, though, the American has clocked world-leading times of 12.93 seconds while Liu rested a nagging back.
“I still believe he is the favourite even though my competitions have been phenomenal,” Merritt said.
Only Liu (12.97) and U.S. world champion Jason Richardson (12.98) have also dipped under 13 seconds this year.
A different approach to the first hurdle has put Merritt, who turns 27 tomorrow, in elite company.
He took a risk in the off-season by switching his run-up to the first hurdle from eight to seven steps.
“Something had to be done if I was going to be able to compete with Liu, if I was going to be able to compete with Dayron (Cuban world record holder Dayron Robles),” Merritt said. The change has been dramatic.
Merritt, whose personal best before this year was 13.09 seconds in 2007, roared onto the scene to defeat Liu for the world indoor championship.
“It really helped with me gaining momentum (in the race),” he said of the change.Being healthy and training more consistently also contributed.
He said he realized that if he runs 12.93 or faster the gold might be his, but was also keen to convince listeners there was no pressure.
“I am not a reigning Olympic champion. I am not a former Olympic champion. I don’t have the world record,” he said. “So I don’t have any pressure.”
A trio of Barbadian hurdlers, Greggmar Swift, Shane Brathwaite and former world champion over the distance, Ryan Brathwaite, will also be seeking 110m hurdles glory at the London Olympics.